Medical marijuana bill DOA in Iowa Senate

February 02, 2005

Matt Milner, Ottumwa Courier

DES MOINES - Two area senators are right in the middle of a proposal to legalize marijuana for medical reasons in Iowa. But they say the proposal may not even make it to a debate. Sens. David Miller, R-Fairfield, and Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield co-chair the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee has 48 bills before it. One is Senate File 64, which seeks to legalize marijuana for specific medical use.

The even split between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate means the parties share chairmanships. Both co-chairs must agree in order for a bill to come to committee debate. Miller said Wednesday that won't happen.

'I don't support it and I don't think it has a chance to come out of committee,' he said.
Miller has not spoken with Kreiman about the bill. He said conversations with other legislators lead him to believe the bill has little support.

Kreiman's take on the bill is very similar to Miller's. He said legalization of marijuana is the wrong message to send when the state is fighting other drugs.

'I don't think the state should be in the business of legalizing marijuana,' Kreiman said. 'We're in a fight right now against methamphetamine, ecstasy and other illicit drugs.'

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, proposed the bill. It allows possession and use of marijuana for glaucoma, nausea associated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, multiple sclerosis, hyperparathyroidism, nail patella syndrome or AIDS. Any possession must be prescribed by a doctor.

Bolkcom said he brought the bill forward based on research and the steps other states have taken to help their citizens.

'I think there's a growing awareness about the medical benefits marijuana can have,' he said. Bolkcom listed glaucoma, chemotherapy and multiple sclerosis as a few cases in which marijuana seems to help 'There's a variety of conditions people can face. People in Iowa are not immune to these diseases.'

The debate is one not normally associated with Iowa. 

Most states with medical marijuana laws are clustered in the west. The 12 states with medical marijuana laws are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The city of Columbia, Mo., passed a local ordinance designating marijuana crimes the lowest law enforcement priority in a 2004 election.

Medical marijuana is the subject of intense debate nationally. States have squared off against the federal government, which maintains there is no legitimate use for marijuana.
Two California residents, Angel Raich and Diane Monson, filed a pre-emptive suit against the federal government to prevent their prosecution for marijuana possession and cultivation. The federal Ninth Circuit court granted them an injunction.

Bolkcom's bill caught one of the nation's largest marijuana reform organizations by surprise. Kris Krane of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said his group knew a medical marijuana law in Iowa was likely this session. He was unaware the bill had been filed.

Iowa isn't the first state most people think of when considering marijuana laws. But Krane said medical marijuana is gaining ground nationally.

'You'd be surprised,' he said. 'Some people think this is a liberal issue or a California issue. What we have found is that's not true.'

Krane pointed to Montana's passage of a medical marijuana bill last year with 61 percent voting in favor of it. The state also went heavily in favor or President George Bush.
'Medical marijuana got more votes than President Bush in Montana,' Krane said.
Bolkcom said NORML has not contacted him, though members of the University of Iowa's Students for Sensible Drug Policy have. He said other constituents have contacted him in support of the bill as well.

Both Miller and Krane said this is the first bill presented to the Iowa legislature proposing legalization of medical marijuana. Neither expects the bill to pass this year.

'Based solely on precedent, it's highly unlikely to pass on the first time,' Krane said.
Bolkcom said this is not the first time he has proposed legalization of marijuana. It hasn't gone anywhere in past sessions and he doesn't believe it will pass this year.

Miller said he believes the legislature will not accept a medical marijuana bill. He pointed to past efforts to introduce bills allowing industrial hemp growth.

Industrial hemp is the same plant used in medical marijuana. The fibers are used to make cloth and rope. Miller said the industrial variety has a much lower concentration of the active ingredients sought by marijuana users, but concern over misuse still torpedoed the bills.

Krane hopes for a hearing before the judiciary committee this year. That's the same goal held by Bolkcom. The bill will go to a subcommittee. Where it goes from there is undecided.
'I hope they meet and discuss whether or not to bring the bill to debate before the full committee,' Bolkcom said.

Miller said he is not surprised the issue was brought forward by a legislator from one of Iowa's larger cities. He said Iowa City has a constituency that is probably more open to medical marijuana than most of the state.

'It doesn't surprise me that a bill like that is being introduced from Iowa City,' he said.
Kreiman said passage of a medical marijuana law sends mixed messages to children.
'We tell our children 'don't smoke, don't do other drugs,'' he said. 'All the kids are going to see is 'this must not be a very harmful or dangerous drug.''

Bolkcom was the sole sponsor listed for SF 64 as of Wednesday.




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