March 27, 2015

Senate committee votes 9-5 in favor of medical marijuana bill

Medical-marijuanaA bill that would legalize the use of marijuana as treatment for certain medical conditions that cause seizures, chronic pain and nausea has cleared a Senate Committee on a 9-5 vote this afternoon, but faces key opposition in the Iowa House. Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, has patterned the bill after laws in other states.

“To give Iowans legal access to medicines that most Americans already have,” Bolkcom said.

An Iowa law that took effect July 1 decriminalized possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of chronic epilepsy, but the parents who lobbied legislators to pass that law say they can’t get the drug for their kids here and can’t travel elsewhere to get cannabis oil and bring it back to Iowa. The bill that cleared the Senate Ways and Means Committee today calls for establishing up to four marijuana production facilities in Iowa as well as up to a dozen separate businesses that would dispense the marijuana.

Iowans with one of the medical conditions listed in the bill or chronic and severe pain caused by an underlying medical diagnosis would have to get a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana as treatment. They would pay $100 for a state-issued Medical Marijuana License and then they’ve be able to buy a series of products made from the marijuana plant. However, smoking marijuana would still be illegal. Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, was a “very reluctant” supporter of the bill.

“But because of the…extensive safeguards that are built in at every step of the process, including the safeguard that smoking of marijuana is expressly prohibited under this legislation, I plan on voting for it today,” Hogg said. “…For people who are truly sick, facing debilitating conditions that I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live with, they ought to have the opportunity if they’re working with their medical provider and they think this is an option that they should pursue.”

Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said marijuana can’t cure “debilitating diseases,” but it can reduce symptoms like seizures, nausea and chronic pain.

“People’s lives, I believe, are at stake,” Dotzler said, “and their health and well-being is at stake.”

Senator Michael Breitbach of Strawberry Point was among the five Republicans on the committee who voted against the bill.

“I’m not ready to vote for it yet, but I think we’re moving in the correct direction,” Breitbach said.

However, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, the top Republican in the legislature, sees a dim future for the bill.

“I don’t believe that the General Assembly will do anything with medical marijuana this year,” Paulsen told reporters late this morning.

Several Iowans with chronic medical conditions are hoping their stories change the minds of legislators like Paulsen. Forty-four-year-old Madena Burman of De Soto has a rare genetic disease that causes colon cancer. There is no cure and she has read research that suggests cannabis can reduce the number of cancer cells produced by hereditary cancers like hers.

“I guess if their life was on the line, they might have a different opinion,” Burman told reporters after today’s committee meeting. “…I have a problem with someone else’s fear overriding my choice for my life and my body.”

Burman sat through today’s senate committee meeting and plans to return to the statehouse to lobby for the bill. Fifty-year-old Shannon Peterson of Des Moines is another Iowan with chronic pain who has been lobbying for passage of this bill and plans to keep at it.

“Show up as often as I can even when it’s hard for me to get up and get going. I’ve had Crone’s Disease for 34 years,” Peterson said after attending today’s meeting. “…It’s just very painful. It’s worse than giving birth.”

She said marijuana could help control her pain and she has considered moving to Denver where she can legally get it.

Mason City man sentenced to prison on meth charges

gavel-thumbnailA north Iowa man will spend more than 20 years in prison for selling meth. Thirty-two-year-old Christopher Lee Evenson of Mason City pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute meth and possession with intent to distribute meth in November of last year.

Evenson admitted to distributing pure meth after a vehicle he was riding in was stopped by police and they found more than 100 grams of meth under his seat. He admitted to selling approximately one pound of ice methamphetamine. Evenson was sentenced to 262 months in prison.


Pain medication tops list in calls to poison hotline

PillsWe’re half-way through Poison Prevention Week and Tammy Noble, a registered nurse and spokeswoman for the Iowa Poison Control Center, says it’s important to raise awareness about the statewide hotline and about making one’s home safe from potential threats.

“Last year, we had a little over 41,000 phone calls, that ends up being over 100 calls a day,” Noble says. “Most of them are exposure calls but we do get some calls that are simply for information, like a mom that wants to know if this plant she has in her house is a poisonous plant or not.”

A vast majority of the “exposure” calls, where someone has been exposed to a potential poison, involve one type of medication. Noble says, “The number-one item happens to be pain medicine, things like acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, it’s aspirin, ibuprofen, on up to stronger medicines like narcotics you might get for a tooth ache or back pain or after surgery.”

If there are potentially dangerous items in your house, from medication to cleaning supplies that you no longer use, she suggests the best course of action is to throw it out before some child gets their hands on it.

Learn more at or by calling the Sioux City-based hotline: 800-222-1222.

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)


Storm Lake police charge 17 in drug investigation

Crime Scene TapeSeveral people are facing drug-related charges in northwest Iowa following an investigation that was launched two years ago. Storm Lake Police have made 17 arrests in connection with a series of drug investigations involving the manufacturing, sale and use of meth, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and marijuana.

The enforcement operation dubbed “Operation Raw Deal” began early Thursday morning and ran through the weekend. During the investigation, police searched two houses, seizing drug, cash, and paraphernalia. Police are looking for several more people in connection with the investigations and are working with law enforcement agencies in other states in search of the wanted suspects.

(Reporting by Joel Hermann, KAYL, Storm Lake)


Vander Plaats backs cannabis oil production, dispensing in Iowa (AUDIO)

Darla & Bob Vander Plaats.

Darla & Bob Vander Plaats.

A former candidate for governor who has become a leader in Iowa’s Christian conservative community is calling on Iowa lawmakers to legalize the growing and harvesting of marijuana, so cannabis oil can be produced and dispensed here as treatment for chronic epilepsy.

Bob Vander Plaats said he “cheered silently from the sidelines” last year as the parents of children with intractable epilepsy successfully lobbied for a new law that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil as a treatment for the condition.

“While last year we stayed quiet, this year we believe we need to lend voice because we see a gap — and we see an unnecessary gap,” Vander Plaats said. “And the unnecessary gap is while last year legalized the access to cannabis oil, there really isn’t any access for these parents.”

Vander Plaats — with his wife, Darla, sitting beside him — spoke out at a statehouse news conference this afternoon. The couple’s third son, Lucas, has a very rare brain disorder that has caused severe seizures. Vander Plaats said that’s why he and his wife have such respect for the parents who are seeking access to cannabis oil.

“Now, as Iowans, we believe we need to take the next step,” Vander Plaats said. “And we need to take the next step and figure out how it is we get this medical cannabis oil into the hands of parents so that their children can benefit from it and benefit from it greatly.”

AUDIO of news conference, 14:00

Vander Plaats was speaking as an individual, not as president of The Family Leader, the Christian conservative organization he leads. Vander Plaats also said he’s not backing any specific bill.

“We have a lot of bright minds in this capitol, people who I respect greatly,” Vander Plaats said, “that I think we can cross this hurdle fairly quickly.”

Vander Plaats told reporters he believes Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, for example, have the “expertise” to grow, harvest, process, manufacture and dispense cannabis oil.

Several advocates for access in Iowa to cannabis oil attended the Vander Plaats news conference. About a half hour later, many of the same people attended a subcommittee hearing on a Senate bill that would set up a system for making and dispensing cannabis oil in Iowa. If that bill becomes law, cannabis oil could be used as treatment for a variety of chronic conditions, like post traumatic stress, and could be used by cancer victims to try to control their pain and nausea.

Pharmacy board denies request to reclassify marijuana

Medical-marijuanaThe Iowa Board of Pharmacy Monday denied another request for the board to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I designation.

Carl Olsen of Des Moines, who founded Iowans for Medical Marijuana, submitted the request. He says keeping marijuana as a Schedule I substance indicates the plant has no medicinal value.

 “We have 34 states that have declared (marijuana as) medicine and we have it in this crazy classification that says it’s only for substances that have no accepted medical use and treatment in the United States,” Olsen says. “These schedules were meant to be flexible because circumstances change and for (pharmacy board members) to act like 34 state laws is not a significant change in circumstances is insane.”

Last year, lawmakers passed and the governor signed a bill into law that allows the use of cannabis oil for patients with chronic epilepsy. But, parents of children with the condition say it’s nearly impossible to safely, affordably, and legally get medical cannabis in other states and bring back to Iowa.

 One reason Olsen wants marijuana moved to Schedule II is so cannabis oil could more easily be manufactured in Iowa. He notes the American Academies of Neurology and Pediatrics have both recommended marijuana be reclassified so it’s no longer a Schedule I drug.

“Why doesn’t the (Iowa Board of Pharmacy) listen to these medical experts?” Olsen says. According to Olsen, board members are calling the medical marijuana issue a “political decision” and are waiting for legislators to tackle the matter.

 At the statehouse, three bills to reclassify marijuana failed to make it out of committee by the funnel date and are considered dead for this year.



Time to take 5 minutes and talk to kids about drug dangers

ODCPToday has been designated as “Take Five Day” in Iowa. The spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, Dale Woolery, explains the goal of the day. “Take Five Iowa Day is just kind of a marker on the calendar to remind Iowans that it is a good time for parents to talk with kids about drugs, about the dangers of drugs, and to ask a few questions and listen to what the concerns of students might be,” Woolery says.

Woolery says it may be a subject that adults aren’t comfortable with. “When you say talk with kids about drugs, that sounds daunting to a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be, you don’t have to be an expert,” Woolery says. “The main thing is to be interested and engaged, ask some questions, be a resource.” Woolery says his office has information available with age-appropriate tips on how to talk to your child.

He says talking isn’t the only thing you need to do. “Take Five means talk yes, but listen as well. And talk about what is current,” Woolery says. “There is a lot of discussion about marijuana, it is an addictive drug and you don’t want to start on that. Prescription drugs abuse — one of the fastest growing forms of substance abuse — and it is something that could be in a lot of our medicine cabinets.”

Woolery says there is potential risk in a lot of places for kids today.”But by talking with kids about drugs, we can reduce that risk by about 50 percent. The risk that they will ever start using drugs,” Woolery says. He has kids of his own and Woolery knows parents sometimes think kids aren’t listening to them. “Children — teenagers in particular — may not always acknowledge what parents have to share is something they are interested in. But, in the long run, it’s also my experience that they do listen, they do care , they do want to hear what parents have to say,” according to Woolery. “And in some ways they really appreciate boundaries and knowing what parents expect of them.”

If you have questions about how to talk to your kids about the dangers of drugs, you can go to the Office of Drug Control Policy website.