Co-creator of New Mexico's medical marijuana program to speak at Iowa forums

Jenison hopes he can convince others of the benefits of a well-designed program

An Iowa-native who helped launch New Mexico's medical marijuana program plans to speak about why medical marijuana makes sense in Iowa at forums across the state in the coming weeks.

Steven Jenison, who was born in Ames and holds degrees from Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, helped establish New Mexico's Medical Cannabis Program in 2007.

He served as its first medical director and was the first chairman of its medical advisory board. Iowa pharmacy board leadership cited New Mexico's program as a good model after recommending Iowa legalize medical marijuana in 2010.

"I talked to so many patients and so many doctors that I became persuaded and I hope I can persuade others of the benefits of a well-designed program," Jenison said, noting that he was initially lukewarm about legalization.

Jenison will host forums called "A conversation about medical marijuana in Iowa" at the Memorial Union on Iowa State University campus in Ames at 4 p.m. on Sunday,  the Iowa City Public Library at 7 p.m. on Nov. 19, and at the Des Moines Public Library at 6 p.m. on Dec. 2.

In 2007, after seven years of debate, the state legislature legalized medical marijuana in New Mexico, making it the 12th state to do so. Today, Iowa is one of 30 states that forbids medical marijuana. Iowa would require legislative action to make it law here, as opposed to some states that legalized the drug through a public vote.

Features of the New Mexico program include specified qualifying conditions, a patient registration system in which the program's medical director must approve each case, an on-call staff member that law enforcement can contact to verifying the status of a person possessing marijuana, annual reviews of cases, a medical advisory board that holds twice annual hearings, and a licensed but discrete production and distribution system.

Proponents of medical marijuana cite therapeutic benefits for a range of conditions such as glaucoma, cancer and post traumatic stress disorder. Opponents challenge that the drug is unpredictable, addictive and legalized medical marijuana would be a gateway for legalization for of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Multiple polls have found public opinion shifting in support of medical marijuana nationally and in Iowa. The Iowa Poll and Gallop polls both found the majority of Iowans and Americans, respectively, now favor legalization for medical purposes. However, law enforcement officials have spoken against it, and efforts in the Iowa Legislature have not gained steam.State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, has introduced legalized medical marijuana bills in recent legislative sessions and plans to again in 2014, but he said he expects the effort will take years.

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