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Iowan Activist Challenges Pharmacy Board's Denial of Marijuana's Medicinal Qualities

Iowans for Medical Marijuana's Carl Olsen has put nearly ten years of tireless effort into an attempt to "get the state [...] to recognize the potential medical benefits of the drug," according to an August 1, 2009 Mason City Globe Gazette article ("Medical Marijuana Proponents Optimistic"). Olsen may finally see some tangible benefit from his hard work when the Iowa Board of Pharmacy holds public hearings on medicinal marijuana legalization over the next few months. Although the story popped up frequently in newspapers and on websites in late June and early August of 2009, Olsen's struggle is more than simply a current event. Moreover, the activist hopes his work will represent one small step toward federal rescheduling of marijuana, paving the way for federal medicinal cannabis programs.

On May 12, 2008, Olsen petitioned the DEA in an attempt to have the Administration remove marijuana from Schedule I, a designation reserved for substances with "a high potential for abuse," "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," and "a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug [...] under medical supervision." Olsen argued that (at the time) twelve states recognized the medicinal properties of marijuana and "accept[ed] the safety of marijuana for medical use," citing several state laws and court cases - including a 1988 DEA petition of which Olsen was a part, In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling. As the petition states, "Because marijuana now has currently accepted medical use in 12 states, because federal law defines accepted medical use to be whatever the states say it is, and because the DEA's own Administrative Law Judge has already determined that marijuana is safe for use under medical supervision, the federal definition for a schedule I controlled substance [...] no longer applies to marijuana and federal law must be amended to reflect those changes." Although Olsen received a letter on June 25, 2008 informing him that his "petition complies procedurally" with all related requirements and "the DEA is therefore accepting the petition for filing," by December 19, 2008, the DEA had made its predictable final decision: the Administration's Deputy Administrator wrote that, "for reasons stated herein, [...] the grounds upon which you rely are not sufficient to justify the initiation of proceedings forthe removal of marijuana from schedule I of the [Controlled Substances Act]." In short, the DEA remained unconvinced by Olsen's arguments and kept marijuana in its previous and still current schedule.

Olsen attempted to reverse the decision through further litigation but was unsuccessful. In late April of 2009, the federal government again denied the activist's opposition filings. Luckily for Olsen, on the same day he petitioned the federal government to reschedule marijuana, he also filed a similar petition with the state of Iowa. This time, his petition produced results. According to a July 15, 2009 article in the Iowa Independent, "In April, a Polk County judge ordered the Board of Pharmacy to at least consider whether marijuana has any accepted medical uses" after it "ruled that it did not have enough evidence to reclassify marijuana" the month prior ("Pharmacy Board to Discuss Medical Marijuana"). The Iowa Board of Pharmacy will hold four hearings over the next four months during which they "examine current science and medical findings and listen to testimony from doctors and patients" regarding cannabis' medicinal properties; additionally, the board "will look at federal and state drug laws, including those in states that allow marijuana use for medical treatment." While Iowa's pharmacy board "doesn't have the power to legalize marijuana for medical use," its members "could suggest lawmakers move it to the Schedule II category for drugs that have accepted medical uses in the United States." Olsen hopes for "a ruling that marijuana has accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and a letter from the state of Iowa telling the DEA to remove it from federal Schedule I," which would make it the first state to do so.

Oddly, though Olsen argues that because "more than a dozen states allow medical use of" marijuana it "no longer meets [the] definition" of a schedule I drug, the "board initially found accepted medical use in 12 states was not enough, and the drug would have to be used for treatment in all states for Iowa to reclassify it." Olsen balks at this circular logic. As he stated in an email to Common Sense for Drug Policy, "I filed a petition with the Board of Pharmacy challenging the Schedule I classification of marijuana. The Board of Pharmacy was not able to explain why it rejected my petition[,] and the court sent the case back to them to explain why they had rejected it." However, the ever-consistent pharmacy board "made the exact same ruling again, but this time they said accepted medical use of marijuana means accepted in all 50 states. [...] That means if 49 states said it had accepted medical use, Iowa would say it has no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States until Iowa says it does. That doesn't make sense." Olsen explains that the board's rejection of his arguments resulted from the statute's phrasing. Whereas the "Iowa Legislature could have written the statute to say 'accepted medical use in Iowa,'" instead the statute reads "accepted medical use in the United States." As Olsen asserts, "In the United States means anywhere in the United States, not everywhere." Sensible English speakers everywhere may be nodding their heads in agreement, but the pharmacy board feels it has more to consider. Thus the August 19, September 2, October 7, and November 4 hearing dates, listed with locations and times below.

Olsen feels relatively optimistic about the upcoming hearings, with good reason. Not only is Olsen a capable litigator himself, having filed numerous documents in both state and federal cases addressing this and related issues, but he has the support of both the ACLU of Iowa and Iowa Democratic Party. Moreover, Olsen maintains his own blog, hosts a show called Carl's Cannabis Corner on MacsWorldLive.com every Saturday between noon and 2:00 pm, has "been interviewed by every TV station in Iowa in the past couple of weeks," and secured coverage of his issue in "most of the newspapers" and at least one local radio station.

Medical marijuana advocates who live in or around Iowa and would like to show their support for Olsen's efforts should attend the following Iowa Board of Pharmacy Hearings: *August 19, 2009 - Iowa State Historical Building in Des Moines from 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. *September 2, 2009 - Music Man Square in Mason City, IA from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. *October 7, 2009 - Bowen Science Building on the University of Iowa Campus in Iowa City from noon to 7 p.m. *November 4, 2009 - Harrah's Council Bluffs, Ballroom 1 in Council Bluffs, IA between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. For more information, visit Olsen's above-linked blog, which catalogs the majority of the media coverage he has secured and provides channels through which to view his show's weekly episodes.

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