April 18, 2014

More movement at statehouse over medical marijuana issue

The Iowa Senate’s Democratic leader says he’s willing to co-sponsor a bill that would allow the very limited use of medical marijuana in Iowa.

The mothers of children with severe epilepsy have been lobbying legislators to decriminalize possession of cannabis oil and allow their childrens’ doctors to recommend its use. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has the power to co-sponsor policy bills in the closing hours of the legislative session.

“I have agreed to provide my signature to a bill that would move a limited bill on medical cannabis oil forward,” Gronstal says.

But for the bill to be eligible for senate consideration, it must also have the signature of the Senate’s Republican Leader, Bill Dix. Dix is not ready to say whether he’ll support it.

“There have been some discussions about that, but that’s as far as it’s gone,” Dix says. “Members, people who are working on that continue to work on a proposal and there’s not yet one that’s been determined.”

Governor Branstad said earlier this week that he is willing to work with legislators to draft a bill allowing the limited use of a non-hallucinogenic oil derived from marijuana if the bill mimics new laws in states like Utah, where a Republican governor approved the move.

Governor Branstad says he would consider a very limited medical marijuana law

Governor Terry Branstad is giving his first indication that he would be open to signing a limited medical marijuana bill into law this legislative session. Branstad recently met with parents who want to use an oil derived from marijuana to help their children who have seizures.

Branstad, a Republican, says he’s talked with the governor of Utah, who approved such a law. “One of our big problems today is people abusing prescription drugs that are meant for somebody else. We don’t want to create more problems –we don’t want unintended consequences,” Branstad says. “But, it looks like we could end up with something that is very limited in focus like was passed recently in Utah and Alabama.  And I’m certainly working with legislators to see if there’s the possibility of working something out on that before the legislature adjourns.”

Branstad made the comments during Monday’s “River to River” show on Iowa Public Radio. Branstad says the Utah and Alabama laws relate to a non-hallucinogenic oil extracted from cannabis, and are very limited. “It doesn’t legalize it, but it means that you wouldn’t prosecute somebody that has it strictly to meet their health needs,” Branstad says.

The governor would consider signing such legislation. “I would, if it is, I have a lot of respect for the Governor of Utah, and what they’ve done, and I want to visit with the Governor of Alabama. And I’m working with the legislature to see — I want to talk with law enforcement and the people who deal with drug abuse to make sure this is not something that is going to create problems for them,” Branstad says.

The governor up to now has called for more documentation on the benefits – and the possible abuse of marijuana — if it was approved for medical use in the state.

Indictment alleges thousands of hydrocodone pills sold illegally in Des Moines

Two men have been accused of illegally distributing a prescription pain killer from a Des Moines pharmacy. The indictment alleges Mark Graziano — the part owner of Bauder Pharmacy — and Michael Enloe conspired to distribute hydrocodone from the pharmacy.

Graziano is also charged with eleven counts of mail fraud and four counts of tax evasion. State officials say some 700,000 doses of hydrocodone could have been distributed illegally from the pharmacy. The Iowa Pharmacy Board suspended his license last April and revoked the pharmacy’s permit to sell narcotic painkillers.

The indictment says Graziano ordered more hydrocodone than needed and from multiple sources, and did not keep or got rid of records to try to avoid detection. It accuses Enloe of taking the medication and selling it to people without prescriptions.

The indictment says Graziano made deposits of nearly $780,000 to his account during the time the two were allegedly selling the hydrocodone.

Read more details here: Graziano and Enloe- Indictment PDF

Parents of epileptic children meet with Branstad to talk about medical cannabis

April Stumpf of Riverside, Maria La France of Des Moines and their children

April Stumpf of Riverside, Maria La France of Des Moines and their children

A group of nearly 20 parents and their children who suffer from severe epilepsy met with Governor Terry Branstad for half an hour this morning — and the parents say they are now more hopeful the governor might approve a law allowing their children to take an oil derived from marijuana as a treatment for their condition.

Maria La France of Des Moines told reporters Branstad was “compassionate” and “gracious” to her and the other families. “He mainly listened to our concerns and the hardships that we Iowans have had to deal with,” La France says, “with our medically-fragile patients.”

La France said Branstad told the group he’d talk with the governor of Alabama, a Republican like Branstad who will soon approve legislation to decriminalize possession of marijuana-infused oil that recommended by a doctor as treatment for epilepsy.

“Our children have run out of options,” Le France said. “We know that this oil is helping children in other states right now.”

April Stumpf of Riverside, the mother of a 21-month-old who has severe seizures, told Branstad medical cannabis does not have the severe side effects of the prescription drugs the children are taking today.

“He was very open to listening today,” Stumpf told reporters. “And so I think that’s the big thing is the stigma around it seems to be what’s hurting the cause more than anything.”

A spokesman for the governor described the meeting as “cordial” but added the governor “reserves judgment until he sees legislation in its final form.”

Death of Black Hawk County inmate ruled accidental

A Black Hawk County jail inmate’s death earlier this month has been ruled accidental by state investigators.  A report released by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation says 34-year-old James Terrell Taylor died of an accidental overdose of drugs, which he ingested prior to his arrest.

Taylor was taken into custody on March 7th on two warrants for failing to appear for court dates on OWI and drug charges. While being booked at the Black Hawk County jail, Taylor was found unresponsive in an intake cell and later pronounced dead at a Waterloo hospital. The Iowa DCI was called in to investigate Taylor’s death.

Iowa State Medical Examiner Dr. Julia Goodin conducted an autopsy on March 9 and found no evidence of trauma. Gooden determined that Taylor died of acute amphetamine/methamphetamine intoxication and certified his death accidental.

By Elwin Huffman, KOEL, Oelwein

Malvern man sentenced on drug charge

A southwest Iowa resident has been handed a lengthy prison sentence for making methamphetamine. Police arrested 31-year-old Jesse Salmons-Rice in November 2012 following an investigation into the distribution of meth around Mills County. Authorities say they found Salmons-Rice manufacturing the drug in the loft of his garage, located just 28-feet away from an elementary school in Malvern.

In September of 2013, Salmons-Rice pled guilty to manufacturing methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of a school. This week, a federal judge sentenced Salmons-Rice to 11 years in prison to be followed by 8 years of supervised release.

Families lobby legislators for limited access to medical marijuana for epileptics

Over a dozen Iowa families gathered behind Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch at a news conference today to press for the limited use of medical marijuana for those who suffer from epileptic seizures. Hatch said one of the employees at his real estate development company has a son who suffers from severe seizures.

“It’s the courage of children like Adam and all the children we have here that makes this an easy opportunity for us to go just a little bit further,” Hatch said, his voice shaking with emotion.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad has said he would veto legislation to allow marijuana to be prescribed as medicine.

“I do have empathy for the families that have medical problems, but I also do know we have a significant problem with the abuse of prescription drugs,” Branstad told reporters later this afternoon, and the governor said the marijuana could too easily fall into the hands of those for whom it is not prescribed as a medication.

Todd Omundson of Altoona, the father of an epileptic child, said during the noon-hour news conference that Branstad is just offering “an excuse” rather than a “legitimate” objection.

“Just give medical cannabis a chance to be prescribed on a small basis for certain types illnesses and seizures,” Omundson said. “It isn’t different than any other pain meds that one out of, I don’t know, five or 10 people take daily.”

Mike Heuck of Spencer has a 12-year-old daughter who’ been on anti-seizure medications since she was 17 months old. He’d like her to be able to try medical marijuana.

“This product is not even a smokable product. It’s an oil extract,” Heuck said. “It’s not even in the same realm as the medical marijuana that everybody things about. It’s an oil that comes in a pill.”

April Stumpf of Riverside has a 21-month-old daughter who is taking anti-seizure drugs that carry warnings about kidney and liver damage, as well as loss of her sight for life. She argues marijuana in pill form will be less dangerous for her daughter.

“All of these families, their childrens’ lives have been told that they will be shorter and not necessarily maybe from what they’ve been diagnosed with, but from the effects of the medications they’re taking,” Stumpf said. “And I think that is something that the legislators need to know and understand.”

Stumpf and the other parents support legislation that would allow Iowa doctors to prescribe pills containing an oil derived from marijuana for their epileptic children. And, when they go out of state to get the pills, those epileptic patients and their families would be shielded from prosecution for possessing medical marijuana if the bill becomes law. Governor Branstad said the deadline has passed in the legislature for policy-related bills like that to be considered this year.