Lawmakers Caught in Medical Marijuana Tug-of-War

As the Iowa Board of Pharmacy negotiates with state lawmakers on the issue of medical marijuana, dispensaries and other business owners renew attempts to legitimize the drug's image.

As the Iowa Board of Pharmacy negotiates with state lawmakers on the issue of medical marijuana, dispensaries and other business owners renew attempts to legitimize the drug’s image.

Acceptance of medical marijuana has reached a critical mass—depending on who you ask. Laws have been passed in 14 states and the District of Columbia allowing patients to use the drug for medicinal purposes, due in part to the pressure of public opinion.

Pharmacy professionals remain divided on the issue. Although some strongly support marijuana as an alternative treatment and believe it should be dispensed through pharmacies, others are hesitant to accept the prescribing of a drug that has not been approved by the FDA.

Iowa’s Decision

That’s the current position of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, which recently determined that the state of Iowa should not approve marijuana for medical use at this time, according to the Huffington Post. Iowans who support medical marijuana, however, consider the board’s action a step backward. Just last February, the board recommended reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II substance—one with potential for abuse, but accepted medical use.

If the board seems to be waffling, it may be a result of the unusual position of authority granted to it by Iowa Code. According to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy is responsible for determining how and whether medical marijuana will be approved, regulated, and dispensed.

Lloyd Jessen, the board’s executive director, said that’s beyond their jurisdiction, according to a report by Radio Iowa. Although the board can oversee certain aspects of implementing a medical marijuana program, more support is needed from law enforcement officials, physicians, and other regulatory experts.

Until that support is mobilized, medical marijuana legislation is unlikely to move forward in the state. “The Board of Pharmacy is limited in what it can do,” Jessen said. “It was created to regulate the practice of pharmacy.”

The Business of Marijuana

As similar legal negotiations play out in courtrooms across the country, lawmakers may also find themselves caught in the crossfire between patients, federal regulators, health care professionals, and, more recently, entrepreneurs.

Public pressure to legitimize medical marijuana has prompted many dispensaries in California and elsewhere to adopt a new, user-friendly image. These wellness centers, which National Public Radio profiled in a recent report, offer a range of squeaky-clean “holistic” services and products in addition to the garden variety of marijuana buds.

Dispensary owners say the upscale atmosphere helps patients feel more at home. “We’re not here for people to get high,” Susan Leahy, an herbalist at the Farmacy in Venice, California, told NPR. “We’re here to offer medicine to alleviate pain, stress, tension.”

They are also tapping a valuable market niche. At Med Grow Cannabis College in Southfield, Michigan, medical marijuana is seen as a potential cure-all for economic hardship in the region, which is home to the struggling metropolitan Detroit area.

“It is great to be part of something that can help the local economy and community. So many people are facing trying times in Michigan,” said Nick Tennant, president and founder of Med Grow. Since the college opened its doors last September, 1000 students have graduated from the program.

Not everyone shares Tennant’s enthusiasm for the drug’s economic potential, however. In New Mexico, regulators are scrambling to avoid the effects seen in California, where lax legislation has led to an abundance of medical marijuana dispensaries. Earlier this month, a California ordinance imposed new regulations, forcing hundreds of dispensaries to shut their doors.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Pharmacies Helping Fans at the World Cup
  • 20% of Teens Seek "Safe High" from Rx Drugs
  • Prescription Adherence Study Pays Cash for Compliance