February 13, 2016

Upmeyer says too many ‘unanswered questions’ about marijuana as medication

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer. (file photo)

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer. (file photo)

The top Republican in the legislature is making it clear she will oppose any attempt to legalize medical marijuana in Iowa this year. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, is a nurse practitioner and she says it “makes sense” to have the federal Food and Drug Administration make that decision.

“I still really believe that the FDA is the arbiter of what is a medication,” she says, “and making sure that the safety, the quality — all those things is the same for any medication.”

Upmeyer says Iowa doctors worry they’ll lose their licenses write prescriptions if they advise patients to use marijuana as treatment for a medical condition.

“Physicians that hold DEA licenses have just a real bit of a concern or a large concern over whether or not that jeopardizes those at all,” Upmeyer says.

And Upmeyer says on January 20th of next year when a new president takes over, the federal approach to medical marijuana may change.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions out there, but I still believe the FDA is the arbiter of medication and how that is managed,” Upmeyer says.

One of Upmeyer’s fellow Republicans in the House has introduced legislation that would allow the cultivation of marijuana in Iowa — for producing cannabis oil to treat chronic epilepsy. That bill faces a February 19 deadline to win approval in a House committee to remain eligible for legislators to consider in 2016.

Lawmaker to introduce bill allowing production of cannabis oil in Iowa

Peter Cownie

Peter Cownie

A West Des Moines lawmaker plans to file a bill today that would make cannabis oil more accessible for Iowans to use as a medicine.

Representative Peter Cownie, a Republican, talked about his decision to push the bill.

“As the father of a healthy 3-year-old son and a healthy 10-month-old son, my heart goes out the families and the sick who have tried everything in the past to help their children and loved ones to no avail,” Cownie says. “I believe it is time for the state of Iowa to act.”

Cannabis oil.

Cannabis oil.

The Iowa Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law last year that allows resident to possess cannabis oil, but those who need it for their children or their own health say it is difficult to get.

Cownie says his bill bans smoking marijuana, and only makes the oil legal. “Only cannabidiol for a variety of ailments — including epilepsy. And also will allows it to be grown and dispensed in the state of Iowa. That’s the problem that we had with the original bill,” Cownie says.

Cownie spoke at a news conference Tuesday and did not want to say a lot more about the bill until it is filed, and then he says everyone will get an opportunity to voice their opinion.

“I would ask everyone to keep an open mind on the bill. There are predispositions to the word marijuana of course. This doesn’t have anything to do with that,” Cownie says. “This has to do with the oil derived from the plant.”

He did not want to say how much bipartisan support he thinks the bill may have. “I know we have some legislative support, but it is also my own personal policy, I don’t speak for legislators personally. They all need to make their own decision on this, and hopefully we’ll find common ground,” Cownie says.

Steve Gaer

Steve Gaer

Representatives of “Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis” joined Cownie to talk about how the cannabis oil has helped them or their children.

Steven Gaer says his daughter’s seizures have been cut in half since she started taking the cannabis oil.

“This is amazing stuff with no side effects that we can’t understand why people aren’t doing more to understand it and help people get to it,” Gaer says, “because there are no side effects. It either does work or it doesn’t work, but there are no side affects to this medication.”

He says the medications his daughter started taking at nine months old to prevent seizures stopped her brain development, and she has the intellect of a four or five year old and she is 26. Gaer says the cannabis oil has helped his daughter to finally sleep through the night and she recently said a complete sentence for the first time.

“I tell people this is like non-alcoholic beer. Don’t tell me if we have non-alcoholic beer that people are going to drink and become alcoholics. There are no side effects to this medication — yet she has seen results we have not seen before. And she has permanent damage,” Gaer says. “I can’t imagine a family with a young child that could have access to this, that maybe that child could live a normal life.”

The Gaer’s get their cannabis oil from New York. Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis say a survey they conducted in December shows 76 percent of Iowans support legislation that would allow the legal production of medical cannabis for those with qualifying conditions.


Iowa and California men sentenced for distributing meth

GavelTwo men will spend more than a decade in prison for admitting to drug trafficking. Forty-seven-year-old Manuel Pinon of Des Moines reached a plea agreement where he admitted to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. He admitted to delivering money from the sale of meth to the meth suppliers.

Pinon was sentenced to 164 months in prison on the drug charge, and given a 60 month sentence to follow that for possessing a gun during the crime. A second man, 32-year-old Michael Ramirez of Los Angeles, California was sentence to 147 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute meth.

He admitted to traveling to Iowa from California to bring money back from drug sales. And he admitted to money laundering as he tried to disguise the source of the money to keep the drug ring secret.


Supreme Court rules drug bust made after I-80 traffic stop not constitutional

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

The Iowa Supreme Court says a drug bust made by a State Trooper after stopping a car for a minor traffic violation was not legal.

State Trooper Eric Vander Weil was in Powesheik County watching for out-of-state vehicles on Interstate 80 in June of 2012 as part of an effort to locate drugs being transported across the state.

He saw a car with California license plates and pulled it over for having a non-working taillight. The trooper wrote out two traffic warnings and after talking with the driver and passenger, he felt something was up.

Trooper Vander Weil said that driver John Saccento and passenger Robert Pardee were nervous when he spoke to them. He also detected the strong odor of air freshener and saw a small can of air freshener on the floor of the car. There were other items in the car, such as a bag of trash and a sleeping bag on the back seat, which led him to believe the men were “traveling hard, not taking any time to throw away their trash and make any unnecessary stops.”

Saccento said he was moving back to New Jersey from California and was making the move in multiple trips and that he was currently returning from his second trip from California to New Jersey.

The trooper asked for permission to search the car and have a drug dog check the car. Saccento refused both. The trooper called in the drug dog. The dog found marijuana and $33,000 dollars in cash in the car. Both men were arrested and the state filed a forfeiture notice to seize the money.

Pardee, was later acquitted of a marijuana possession charge and filed to get the money back saying it was illegally seized.  He argued the approximately 25 minute traffic stop was well beyond the time needed to write the warnings.

The Iowa Supreme Court on a 5-2 vote ruled the stop violated Pardee’s constitutional rights. Based on recent cases with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Iowa court says the trooper developed reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity only by prolonging the initial traffic stop beyond the time reasonably necessary to execute the traffic violation warnings.

Chief Justice Mark Cady was one of the three judges to disagree with the majority ruling, saying the nervous of Pardee and the driver, the smell of air freshener in their car and other indicators were enough to prolong the stop to look for drugs.

Here’s the full ruling: Drug bust ruling PDF


Davenport police charge two after finding mobile meth lab

Christopher Ray Hicks

Christopher Ray Hicks

Two men are in the Scott County Jail after an unusual drug bust. Davenport Police arrested 33-year-old Christopher Ray Hicks and 38-year-old Collin Bundy Loader on Friday.

Officers say the men were riding in a vehicle around the Isle of Capri Casino in Bettendorf that contained a methamphetamine lab.

In addition to meth-making materials, police seized over 5 grams of the drug from the vehicle.

Collin Bundy-Loader

Collin Bundy-Loader

Hicks and Loader are each charged with one count each of possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to commit a felony.


Omaha Tribe explores growing marijuana in western Iowa

MarijuanaMembers of the Omaha Tribe are moving ahead with a feasibility study on a proposed marijuana-growing operation in western Iowa that would provide pot for medical, industrial and recreational uses.

Tribal members have voted on three referendums now giving the Tribal Council the authority to legalize marijuana on the reservation in northeast Nebraska.

Chairman Vernon Miller says input from tribal members was vital. “We needed to really gauge the opinions of the Omaha Tribal members,” Miller says. “We didn’t want to take action without their approval and their opinion. They are pretty controversial issues. We posed those questions to the people and they voted on all three and supported all three.”

Miller says the Tribal Council will take the time to research what’s viable. “Recreational is the most controversial from a legal standpoint so we really need to weigh what’s going to be most feasible at this time…dealing with law enforcement agencies as well as U.S. Attorneys from both Nebraska and Iowa,” Miller says. “That’s something we’re really going to have to weigh after the feasibility study is done, what’s going to be something that we can really effectively do here.”

Miller says generating cash for the tribal community is the biggest priority. “Is it something that’s going to require the least amount of investment but that’s going to provide the biggest ROI, return on investment,” Miller says. “That’s the only reason we’re really pursuing the profit aspect of it, to generate some revenue. My community has a 69% unemployment rate. We have no jobs. Being a sovereign nation, we’re going to take that sovereignty and provide for ourselves.”

Miller says the tribe will work to ensure that any plan would not violate federal or state laws. The proposal would allow for the creation of the crop on tribal land in western Iowa’s Monona County. For more than 20 years, the tribe has operated a casino there, near Onawa, with Las Vegas-style gambling.

(Reporting by Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)


Iowans cannot buy medical marijuana in new Illinois dispensaries

Gov. Terry Branstad

Governor Terry Branstad.

Medical marijuana sales started Monday in the State of Illinois. Iowa law only allows possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of chronic epilepsy, which primarily afflicts children, but the oil is not sold in Iowa.

This spring Governor Terry Branstad suggested Iowans with a state-issued card allowing possession of cannabis oil might be able to go to Illinois to buy it. But Branstad’s administration has not made progress on that idea.

“I don’t know that there’s been anything done on that yet,” Branstad told reporters Monday.

Current Illinois law only lets Illinois residents buy medical marijuana products from dispensaries in that state. Medical marijuana sales began in Minnesota July 1st, but only Minnesota residents can buy it there as well. Iowa parents caring for children with intractible epilepsy say buying cannabis oil elsewhere is difficult, if not impossible, so the Iowa law that decriminalizing possession of cannabis oil needs to be changed. Branstad said he has sympathy for those parents, but is concerned about what’s going on with recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state.

“We’re continuing to look at that very carefully,” Branstad said. “Certainly we have empathy for those people with epilepsy and want to make sure they are able to get it, but that only those people that have epilepsy are the only ones that are able to get it and those that have the authorization from their physicians.”

Medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Chicago and four other Illinois cities Monday after “cultivation centers” got the go-ahead to start shipping marijuana to retailers last week. In December, a medical marijuana dispensary is scheduled to open in Milan, Illinois — which is in the Quad Cities area.