Government policy

Iowa board delays decision on reclassifying marijuana

State Pharmacy Board tables decision until January

Terrence Freeman works in one of the grow rooms at RiverRock Organic Cannabis in Denver. The Iowa Pharmacy Board on Wedn
Terrence Freeman works in one of the grow rooms at RiverRock Organic Cannabis in Denver. The Iowa Pharmacy Board on Wednesday tabled until January its decision on marijuana’s drug classification in Iowa.(Marc Piscotty for The Washington Post)

DES MOINES — After some members expressed reservations, the Iowa Pharmacy Board on Wednesday tabled its decision on marijuana’s drug classification in Iowa until January.

A board subcommittee on Wednesday recommended reclassifying marijuana from a Class I drug — the most dangerous — to a Class II drug.

The subcommittee’s recommendation was based on marijuana’s use for medical purposes, which is a Schedule II criteria, and bolstered by a new Iowa law that legalized the use of an oil found in the marijuana plant for treatment of children with epilepsy.

But the full board voted unanimously to table the decision until its January meeting.

Board member James Miller, a pharmacist from Dubuque who was appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad, said he thinks reclassifying marijuana is outside the board’s purview.

“I also think that there’s some credibility here as far as the board, what our role is, and that we maintain our diligence as far as the safety of the citizens of Iowa,” Miller said. “When you look at the established safety of the drug products that we currently take responsibility for, marijuana wouldn’t fall into that category at all, that standardization. … I think that clearly is outside the bounds of our expertise.”

The pharmacy board is weighing a recommendation; reclassification requires legislative action.

The board recommended reclassifying marijuana to Schedule II in 2010, but the Legislature did not act.

The three-member subcommittee on Monday heard from advocates on both sides of reclassification. There was no public comment at Wednesday’s meeting.

Board member Edward Maier, a pharmacist from Monona originally appointed to the board by former Gov. Tom Vilsack and reappointed by Branstad, read the subcommittee’s recommendation.

“While the board believes that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, in 2014 the Iowa General Assembly passed the Medical Cannabinoid Act. That act permits the use of cannabidiol for patients suffering from intractable epilepsy. The passage of this act is an affirmative recognition by the Iowa General Assembly that there is a medical use for marijuana. Continued placement of marijuana in Schedule I is not consistent with that act,” Maier said, reading directly from the recommendation.

The subcommittee recommendation also seeks to clarify marijuana’s classification in Iowa code. Currently, as a result of old experimental research programs, the drug is classified as both Schedule I and Schedule II in Iowa, the recommendation says.

Maier emphasized that reclassifying marijuana would not be the de facto implementation of a medical marijuana law. He said that step also would require legislative and regulatory action.

Advocates for reclassification say it could lead to research that could produce new medical treatments that use marijuana.

The state pharmacy board is scheduled to meet again the first week of January.

The 2015 legislative session begins Jan. 12.

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