Update: Carl Olsen, in a comment below, clarifies that he will not petition the Board of Pharmacy to place marijuana in any particular schedule. He writes, “I just know it does not meet the statutory criteria for either Schedule I or Schedule II. If the board puts it into Schedule III, I’ll evaluate that to see if I have any problems with it. I don’t deal with what ifs and I am not going to ask them to put marijuana in Schedule III.”
As expected, on Tuesday the Iowa Board of Pharmacy rejected Des Moines activist Carl Olsen’s petition asking it to establish rules that could open the door for medical marijuana in Iowa. The board has the ability to do so under Iowa law, but it wrote that Olsen’s petition was “incomplete and overbroad.” Board Executive Director Lloyd Jessen later reiterated to the Progressive that before any rules could be implemented the Legislature would have to take the lead. “We are done with this issue now until the Legislature and the governor do something,” he said.
In its decision, the board wrote that Olsen’s petition lacked “provisions for safe delivery of medical marijuana” and “measures to assure marijuana use is limited to medical treatment,” and that it included “subject matter that the Board is not authorized by statute to address,” such as criminal penalties for misuse. Moreover, Jessen told the Progressive, the language in the Iowa Code that would grant marijuana medical status “pursuant to rules of the board” “serves no purpose” because it is nothing more than a remnant of Iowa’s short-lived look at an investigational program started by the federal government that was phased out decades ago. “Carl Olsen thinks it’s like everything we need to create a program today, but it’s not,” Jessen said. “For us to have a compassionate use program,” he said, “we need to have a new law that addresses it.”
Olsen, of course, begs to differ. “He’s trying to say, well, because the other states do it this way we don’t have to obey the law here in Iowa,” Olsen said of Jessen. “Bullshit. He’s really clever, he knows all the right excuses to make, but it doesn’t cut mustard. I’m sorry. He’s just flat out wrong. That’s how he would like you to see the thing because it lets him off the hook and lets the Board of Pharmacy off the hook.”
Before Tuesday’s meeting, Olsen said he planned to follow up a board rejection with a new petition demanding that the board recommend marijuana be moved not to Schedule II, with drugs including cocaine and meth, but instead to
the less severe Schedule III a less restrictive classification [Editor's note: see update above]. Now, he said, he plans to wait to see if the Legislature acts in January before doing that. In the meantime, he said, “I’m going to appeal the stupid ruling. It doesn’t answer all the questions I still have.” Olsen said he will still sue the state next year if no further actions are taken then.
House Majority Leader and Des Moines Democrat Kevin McCarthy, who committed to an interim study commission on marijuana after the Board of Pharmacy recommended it for medical use in February then quickly backtracked, continued to ignore repeated Progressive requests for comment. However, he spoke with Des Moines Register reporter Tony Leys after Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t think either the majority or the minority party, whichever that may be, will spend a lot of time on the issue of medical marijuana,” he told Leys.
The reason for McCarthy’s reversal, which we reported in our September issue, was ostensibly that he had not been aware of the language in Iowa law granting the board rule-making powers. Said a sympathetic Olsen: “McCarthy keeps telling [the board] that, because he’s a lawyer and he can read the Iowa Code just like I can, and he sees the same thing I can.” But Jessen won’t be convinced. Legislators, he said, “simply have to” start the process, and “there’s no way they can get away from it.”
Jessen told the Progressive that legislators “have never come and talked to us directly. They communicate through the news.” This probably explains why McCarthy was initially unaware about the law. Had he spoken with the board (or simply given the Iowa Code a good look) before telling the media there would be an interim commission on medical marijuana, he probably would have known about it. Now that he does know, he continues to punt to the unwilling pharmacy board. “The fact of the matter is,” he told Leys, “what the pharmacy board asked for, they already have.” The Progressive can only assume, then, that McCarthy never took the issue of medical marijuana very seriously to begin with (although we still invite him to contact us to set the record straight).
Regardless, unless Carl Olsen’s legal challenges force the state’s hand, there will be no legally available medical marijuana anytime soon in Iowa. Said Jessen, “It’s not popular at all.” McCarthy has said that his constituents aren’t particularly interested in the issue. But, Jessen said, “the people of the state should really decide because the state belongs to the people, so if the people want it they need to tell their legislator and tell their governor that they want it.”