IOWA: The Iowa Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously in 2010 to recommend medical marijuana legalization for the state of Iowa. That same year, a Des Moines Register Iowa Poll indicated that 64 percent of Iowans support medical marijuana legalization with 33 percent in opposition.
In the three year since, support for medical cannabis has slipped by six percentage points according to a February 2013 Iowa Poll, and the Iowa legislature has yet to move forward on a bill. Governor Terry Branstad’s Office of Drug Control Policy has been levying its own rhetoric, meanwhile, defending marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I substance (i.e., a substance with no medical value and a high potential for abuse).
Enter Doctor Steven Jenison, co-creator of New Mexico’s medical cannabis program and, subsequently, the program’s first Medical Director and Medical Advisory Board Chair. It was Jenison’s New Mexico medical marijuana program that the Iowa Board of Pharmacy modeled when making its unanimous 2010 recommendation. Needless to say, Jenison has a bone to pick with Iowa’s inaction on the medical marijuana front.
“Whether people are positively inclined or negatively inclined toward medical cannabis, I believe that there is a certain inevitability to it,” Jenison said. “If Iowa is ultimately going to have a medical cannabis program, which I believe it will someday, then it is entirely appropriate and helpful that there be open and civil discussions about it. There shouldn’t be any character assassination or impugning peoples’ motives behind having discussions about having a medical cannabis program.”
Having received his B.S. degree from Iowa State University and his medical degree at the University of Iowa, Jenison is back in Iowa City until early December to study emergency medical care at the UI College of Medicine. While visiting, Jenison has partnered with State Senator Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City to advocate the implementation of a medical marijuana program on Iowa’s behalf. Jenison is giving a talk, titled “A Conversation about Medical Marijuana in Iowa,” on November 19 at the Iowa City Public Library (Meeting Room A) at 7 p.m.
“It’s worthwhile having discussions early about it so that, if it comes, which it may well, then you have had a good discussion that makes it so that that program accomplishes what you’re setting out to do, which is to benefit people truly in need without having any undue impact upon other things like the fabric of society or diversion to the illicit market.”
Jenison says that rhetoric warning of the alleged social ills of medical marijuana is well worth addressing, but such issues have not manifested in New Mexico.
“There are certainly a tendency in issues like this to resort to demagoguery and to say, ‘oh it’s all about protecting the youth.’ Well, if that is a real problem then it’s certainly one that needs to be addressed. We’ve had our program implemented since 2007 and to the best of my knowledge, that just hasn’t been raised as a real issue in regard to the implementation of our program.”
Getting others to see things his way has been difficult, Jenison says, not only because of a lack of research, but because of active attempts by the federal government — and other non-federal entities — to stifle medical marijuana research. It creates a catch-22 of sorts where those who are skeptical want more data, while the data itself is difficult to come by due to obstruction by those same skeptics. While there are many factors at play according to Jenison, he says, “I think it’s mostly a status quo thing.”
“Donald Abrams, who’s one of the only people who has managed to do any successful research — he was able to do it because the state of California decided that there was obstruction to research funding at the federal level so they established their own research foundation for medical cannabis using state money,” Jenison said.
Governor support is paramount when it comes to both medical marijuana research and medical marijuana implementation, Jenison notes, and despite Governor Branstad’s lack of support for such such a policy, he feels that Iowa shouldn’t necessarily discount Branstad’s ability to be swayed. He saw a similar change of heart occur in New Mexico under former Governor Bill Richardson, in fact.
“I think it’s entirely possible for people to move [Branstad] in the direction of being more supportive of [medical cannabis],” Jenison said. “At the talk at Iowa State [on November 10], there were three patients who gave very compelling testimony that is consistent with my understanding of what a medical cannabis program is all about.”
So, what is a medical marijuana program “all about?”
“People suffering terribly who have found relief from the use of medical cannabis or are seeking relief through the use of medical cannabis where really nothing else has been of benefit,” he said. “Really, all that a medical cannabis law does is protect those individuals from criminal liability.”