The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Mike Sweet column

By Mike Sweet, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 13--Terry Branstad wants you to know he worries about you, which is why he opposes legalizing medical marijuana for Iowans.

Sick people might get hooked or abuse it, is how he sees it. We can't have that, not in Puritan Iowa, where until not so long ago the state kept a record of every bottle of booze residents bought from state-owned liquor stores, the only places it could be obtained legally.

While the governor opposes medical marijuana, he let on he still feels your pain. Well not really, but you know, it's the thought that's supposed to comfort you when you're puking your guts out after chemotherapy; or rolling around on the floor swallowing your tongue during your umpteenth epileptic seizure. Or your joints or post-traumatic stress are so bad you can't leave the house and sometimes wish you were dead, except for the faint hope that some day your Bible-thumping political leaders will have a Saul-like epiphany and decide to let you use one of the merciful creator's natural wonders to feel something other than pain and despair until death do you part.

Yes, Iowans are lucky to have such a thoughtful, caring governor-for-life who, as he did this week, publicly expressed his empathy for those who suffer from serious illnesses -- even those people who believe marijuana might (or already know) alleviates their side effects.

The governor insists they continue suffering because the damnable law of unintended consequences he believes in suggests if prescription pot was legal some people might abuse the privilege in their quest to suffer no longer. After all, the state already has a problem with prescription pill abuse, the governor said. The implication being that pot would only add to the burdens of those tasked with rooting out the abuses and adding abusers to the prison population.

Last week, most Iowa legislators, who like the governor support the production, sale and ingestion of caffeine, booze, nicotine and legal killers like morphine and oxycodone -- chickened out and failed even to debate proposed bills legalizing medical marijuana.

Not even the testimony of sick people who have benefited from pot and from medical doctors who say there's well-documented evidence of benefits could persuade lawmakers to make an exception and enact a compassionate law.

Iowa's Pharmacy Board concluded four years ago medical marijuana should be legal. Since then, Branstad has replaced five of its seven members, and the board recently rejected an Iowa mother's plea that her daughter be granted a dispensation to use pot to control her epilepsy.

No doubt jubilant over such victories for the purveyors of legal painkillers who contribute to campaign funds, Branstad this week cemented his opposition to medical marijuana on the grounds other special interests, like sick people, don't count in his moral equations.

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"I think we have to be careful about drafting our laws just for a few people that have a particular problem or ailment," Branstad said. "I just think there's a lot more study that needs to go on before we embark on this kind of an experiment."

Of course, the bad joke is he doesn't support medical experiments that would show the efficacy of marijuana isn't only anecdotal but empirical as well. So his suggestion experiments might actually be in the offing is so much conservative hot wind.

Iowa used to be an innovative state. But conservatives love the past. They clamp onto it like a lion to a rump roast. That's why they still love Ronald Reagan, who thought all those B movies he was in reflected real life. Change frightens conservatives; the past calms them. So backwards we go. In Iowa and Washington.

It's significant that two out of three Iowans support medical marijuana. Yet their elected leaders remain in the stone age on the subject. They show no inclination to summon the courage -- and more importantly the compassion -- to end an unwarranted prohibition manufactured by hysterical politicians.

Twenty progressive states and the District of Columbia already have defied the federal ban on medical marijuana. With, it must be said, the tacit approval of a much-maligned Democrat in the White House who has more respect for people's personal freedoms and trust in their instincts than conservatives have ever shown.

Though he later succumbed to a bout with reason and relented, Branstad was among those Republican governors who declared Obamacare to be socialism and refused to accept federal Medicaid funds to help poor people get health insurance. Republicans hate the "nanny state." And yet they are walking, talking contradictions, insisting on their absolute right to interfere with the most intimate and personal decisions Americans must make, from using birth control to using marijuana legally and responsibly.

The governor's rationale for refusing to legalize medical marijuana is based on vintage Republican clabber trap.

His argument is some people abuse prescription drugs, therefore legalizing medical marijuana will lead inevitably to its abuse, too, which is why he claims he cannot support its legalization. He could sway the Legislature to do the right thing if he wanted to. But he doesn't.

Sick Iowans who know they would benefit from marijuana will, however, have the governor's heartfelt empathy as they continue to suffer for his fears.


(c)2014 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

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