Leaders of both political parties have already expressed an unwillingness to move to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, but that won’t stop advocates of medical marijuana from lobbying for the change when the legislature convenes in January.
One of those in favor of legalization, Jimmy Morrison, smokes marijuana a couple of times a day to treat his bi-polar disorder. The University of Iowa student and business owner says he tried prescription medication but it left him numb and unable to focus on his video production company.
“I could stop breaking the law that sounds great but the reality of it is there’s a reason I’m risking going to jail. It’s because it works, because the cost is too high to quit,” Morrison says. Morrison is 24 and says he’s taken risks to get marijuana, as last year he was mugged in the Twin Cities while trying to buy it.
“I had my wallet stolen, my shirt, my shoes, my socks and it was the middle of winter in Minneapolis. I’m not a criminal. I don’t do criminal activity, but I’m forced to deal with criminals just to get my medicine,” Morrison says. Dubuque doctor Debora LaBeau says the marijuana has a long and well documented history of medicinal properties.
“I’m just a physician who looks at this at this whole marijuana debate as being absurd because I think we’ve got so many other poisons I as a physician can prescribe everyday to people,” Lebeau says. “Even something as simple as their cholesterol lowering medication can have significant side effects and cause renal failure and even death in people. Yet I’m not allowed to prescribe marijuana.”
LaBeau says she knows there are other physicians who share her view but are afraid to step forward. About a year ago she took a day off from her gynecology practice to testify at an Iowa Board of Pharmacy hearing. Those hearings prompted the Board to recommend removing marijuana from the state’s list of schedule one drugs, those defined as having no proven or acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Removing marijuana from this list is the first step necessary to establishing a medicinal program in Iowa. The state’s Drug Control Policy Director, Gary Kendell, adamantly opposes moving ahead with legalization. “If you talk to folks in California and other states that have medical marijuana it really shifts the attitude, social acceptance, and just social thinking about the perceived harm of these drugs and that’s just not a road that we want to go down,” Kendell says.
Kendell he predicts the number of juveniles in state substance abuse programs will grow if the legislature reclassifies the drug. Kendell says, “Sixty percent of our juveniles that enter drug treatment in our state are entering because of marijuana as their drug of abuse and you that’s only going to get worse.”
In fact more than ten years after Oregon voters approved medical marijuana, law enforcement there is still concerned about the increased access to pot. Dr. Grant Higginson oversees the patient and grower registration program for the Oregon Health Authority, and says law enforcement has concerns.
“I think their biggest issue is what they believe is diversion of quote medical marijuana as a drug into the black market. Their concern is that there are people who are doing the growing of the medical marijuana who aren’t simply giving it to patients who need it but are using it for other things,” Higginson says.
Higginson says if the Iowa Legislature approves medical marijuana he can guarantee it will be an annual topic of debate — as supporters push to expand the law and opponents demand new restrictions.