Iowa pharmacy board studies legalized marijuana

August 5, 2009

Iowa proponents have sought legalization of medical marijuana for years. Now the state?s Board of Pharmacy Examiners (IBPE) wants to learn more about the issue.

Des Moines, Iowa - Iowa proponents have sought legalization of medical marijuana for years. Now the state’s Board of Pharmacy Examiners (IBPE) wants to learn more about the issue.

To that end, the board is conducting a complete scientific review of the literature on the use of medical marijuana and is holding public hearings across the state. A series of four daylong public hearings will be held in Des Moines, Mason City, Iowa City, and Council Bluffs between August 19 and November 4.

By the end of November, the board will issue a report recommending to state legislature either that medical marijuana stay on the Schedule 1 controlled substance list, or that it be moved to Schedule 2, making it medically available with restrictions.

Although proponents of medical marijuana, such as Iowans for Medical Marijuana, have been urging the board and state legislators to approve its use for more than 30 years, it was only last year that the IBPE began considering the issue more closely.

“Last year, we had one person [Carl Olsen, director of Iowans for Medical Marijuana] file a petition asking us to recommend that it be moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2,” Lloyd Jessen, RPh, executive director of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, told Drug Topics. “We had denied the petition because his only argument was that 13 states have done this.”

However, petitioner George McMahon and other members of Iowans for Medical Marijuana appealed the board’s decision to Polk County District Court. “The Board says 13 states have jumped off a bridge by legalizing the medical use of marijuana,” wrote Olsen in a statement to the IBPE in July. “In spite of the fact that no one has ever died from using marijuana in all of recorded history and marijuana’s safety for use under medical supervision is beyond any doubt.”

In April 2009, Polk County District Judge Joel D. Novak ruled that the IBPE had unlawfully rejected the petition.

Now, at the public hearings, the IBPE is asking for scientific research and other input from medical experts, pharmacists, consumers, and others. Some pharmacists have contacted the board already, and they “tend to be against it [legalizing medical marijuana],” according to Jessen. “They think pharmacists would be used to dispense it, but they would not. Other states have centers to dispense it,” he said.

Still, legalization is a hot-button issue among Iowans and in the state legislature. Although bills proposing to legalize medical marijuana have not made it out of subcommittee in the Iowa legislature in the past, more legislators are following the issue this time. “They are just interested in learning more,” Jessen said.

The issue is so controversial, he added, that managers of many facilities where the board wanted to hold its public hearings declined participation. In addition, “We have legislators saying that this is going to happen ‘over my dead body,’” Jessen said.

While Jessen does not know what the board’s final recommendation will be, he knows the IBPE will call for strict government oversight if Iowa’s legislature approves legalization of medical marijuana in the future.

“If approved, it would only be for people who have life-threatening illnesses … and people who can’t take other types of pharmaceutical treatments, ” Jessen said.

Iowa would conduct the program with tighter controls than those employed by states such as California, Colorado, and Michigan, he said. “The average age for people approved in Colorado is 24 years old. In Michigan, the law was just approved and around 3,000 people are approved.”

In addition to public hearings, the IBPE is asking for written comments, which must be submitted by November 4. Written comments can be sent by e-mail to debbie.jorgenson@ibpe.state.ia.us or by U.S. mail to the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, RiverPoint Business Park, 400 SW 8th Street, Suite E, Des Moines, Iowa 50309-4688.

For more information, visit Iowa Board of Pharmacy Examiners.