Iowa and South Dakota have quickly become the first states to reject medical marijuana this year. Bills are pending or about to be introduced in about 20 other states, and national marijuana reform groups have said they hope to see the measures pass in at least a pair of states. It apparently won't be happening in the corn states of the far Midwest this year.
In South Dakota, the state legislature effectively killed a medical marijuana bill on January 30, when the House Health and Human Services Committee deferred consideration of the bill until the session's 41st day. The session only has 40 days.
Medical marijuana polled a whopping 81% approval rate in the predominantly rural state in 2001, but legislators there took their cues not from public opinion but from such medical marijuana "experts" as the state attorney general and the superintendent of the state highway patrol. Representing the attorney general's office, Charlie McGuigan told legislators his office opposed any bill that would "legalize marijuana in any form, whether it's medical marijuana, industrial hemp, or any other concoction that would give credence to this substance." Furthermore, McGuigan argued, "The federal government has determined that it has no medical use and is highly addictive."
South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Dan Mosteller told the solons he opposed the bill because, like industrial hemp, it was a stalking horse for the legalization of marijuana nationwide. "It's no coincidence that all these people are working together because the agenda is the softening or the legalization of marijuana in this country," said Mosteller. "These types of movements, in my opinion, are merely a smoke screen to legalize or soften the drug laws in this state and other states in the union."
Bill sponsor Rep. Gerald Lange, D-Madison, denied he was part of any national legalization cabal. He told his fellow lawmakers he submitted the bill at the request of a constituent suffering from a chronic illness and that his bill was crafted to limit medical marijuana use to patients who received recommendations from physicians and who registered with the state health department. "So, this is kind of a control on the usage of this normally illegal drug," said Lange. "This is a wave that is coming," said Lange. "This bill is very restrictive. It is not a slippery slope." Lange cited reports from the New England Journal of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health showing the herb's efficacy as a medicine, but his fellow legislators apparently preferred to get their medical information from police and prosecutors.
Lange does not sit on the committee. Only one committee member, Rep. Bill Thompson (D-Sioux Falls), spoke in favor of the measure, relating the story of his wife's grandmother, who used marijuana while battling liver cancer. Thompson also provided the only vote in favor of moving the legislation forward.
The following week, Iowa legislature committee heads effectively killed a medical marijuana bill in the Hawkeye State. The bill, Senate File 64, would have recognized the medical use of marijuana for specific conditions. But in a bipartisan move to stifle it, Senate Judiciary Committee co-chairs David Miller (R-Fairfield) and Keith Kreiman (D-Bloomfield) said they would not hold hearings or debate on the bill. "I don't support it and I don't think it has a chance to come out of committee," Miller told the Ottuma Courier on February 2. Sen. Kreiman told the Courier passage of the bill would send the "wrong message" when the state is fighting other drugs. "I don't think the state should be in the business of legalizing marijuana," Kreiman said. "We're in a fight right now against methamphetamine, ecstasy and other illicit drugs." While the medical marijuana bill, introduced by Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is not officially dead, given the refusal by the Judiciary Committee co-chairs to schedule hearings, it is effectively dead.
To add insult to injury to Iowans seeking relief via medicinal marijuana, the Iowa Supreme Court on February 9 rejected a Floyd County man's appeal of his manufacturing marijuana conviction. Lloyd Dean Bounjour, an AIDS sufferer, argued that he should be able to mount a medical necessity defense to the charges. A trial court judge refused to allow him to present a medical necessity defense, and he was convicted in 2002 of growing marijuana.
Tough luck, said the high court. If Bounjour wants relief he should turn to the legislature, the majority wrote. "Use of marijuana is a public-policy issue best suited for the Legislature because it is driven by legal, moral, philosophical and medical concerns that are ill-suited for resolution by this court," the ruling read.
But legislative leaders have killed the bill that would address Bounjour's needs.