The debate on whether Iowa should legalize the use of marijuana for medical treatment continued Wednesday as pharmacy regulators heard testimony from the public, patients and doctors.
At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union's state chapter announced that it filed a new petition with the courts to change the drug's classification.
The Iowa Pharmacy Board's scientific review comes after it again rejected a petition last month to reclassify marijuana.
A Polk County judge had ordered the board in April to reconsider the petition to remove marijuana as a Schedule I drug under state law. Schedule I drugs have no safe medical use within the United States and are a high risk for abuse.
The ACLU of Iowa filed another petition with the court Wednesday to overturn last month's board decision.
Proponents of medical marijuana use argue that more than a dozen other states allow medical use of the drug. The pharmacy board has said the drug would have to be used for treatment in all states for Iowa to reclassify it.
However, it agreed to a scientific review and to accept public comment on the drug's use. The board has scheduled four public hearings: Wednesday in Des Moines; Sept. 2 in Mason City; Oct. 7 in Iowa City; and Nov. 4 in Council Bluffs.
Lloyd Jessen, the board's executive director, noted during Wednesday's hearing that the board doesn't have the power to legalize marijuana for medical use, but it could suggest lawmakers move it to the Schedule II category for drugs that have accepted medical uses in the United States.
The board's findings would recommend to the Legislature how the drug should be treated. Lawmakers would have to pass legislation or approve new administrative rules to legalize medical marijuana.
Robert Manke, a Des Moines resident who says he uses medical marijuana, testified that he has been involved in three traffic accidents that resulted in a broken spine and myriad health problems. He said he takes powerful narcotics including morphine, but marijuana works best for his pain and nausea.
"Our laws need to be changed _ they need to respect the truth," he said. "We need your scientific evaluation, but we also need you to hear people like me badly."
Dr. Joseph McSherry, a Burlington, Vt., neurologist, said the drug is "not exceptionally prone to abuse and not remarkably toxic."
McSherry, who in 2002 participated in a legislative study to consider medical marijuana use, said marijuana can be inhaled when patients are too nauseous to take a pill, and that it offers faster pain relief. When it comes to downsides for patients, he said, "There are none."
Gary Young, a former Polk County Health Department worker testifying on behalf of the Iowa Elks Association, said studies show marijuana smoking has respiratory and cardiovascular risks similar to those of tobacco.
He added that if marijuana were considered medicine, the state couldn't regulate where it's used. Iowa banned smoking in nearly all public places last year.
"Redefining smoked marijuana as a medicine would allow users to smoke in places where tobacco smoking is prohibited," Young said.
A representative of the Iowa Pharmacy Association noted that in 1997 it supported the experimental use of medical marijuana subject to distribution controls by the pharmacy board.
The Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy will submit a written statement to the board. The office's stance, according to its Web site, is that science so far doesn't support using marijuana as medicine.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, presented a bill to legalize medical marijuana that stalled during the last legislative session. He plans to introduce new legislation next session.
August 18, 2009