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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

March 4, 2019

Des Moines Register. February 27, 2019

Iowa lawmakers should expand access to medical cannabis, but federal guidance is crucial

Nearly 80 percent of Iowans support expanding access to the state’s “medical marijuana” program, according to a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll.

To be clear, the state’s fledgling medical cannabis program does not clear the way for anyone to smoke pot. Whole-plant medical cannabis is not the same thing as extracts of cannabinoids from cannabis plants. So we’re talking about oils, creams and capsules, not Iowans buying leaves, pipes and edibles from a state-approved dispensary.

Currently, patients wanting to participate in the state program must get a physician to certify they have a qualifying medical condition, such as Crohn’s disease, AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease or untreatable pain. More than 1,300 Iowa patients have obtained state-issued cards allowing the purchase of products.

Senate File 256, sponsored by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, would expand the range of qualifying health problems to include “severe” and “chronic” pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and any condition for which a health professional determines cannabinoids could be “medically beneficial.” It also would let nurse practitioners and physician assistants certify patients for the program.

Giving more health professionals more discretion makes sense.

Yet Iowans need to understand cannabis may not be effective in treating the health conditions listed in state law and rules.

There is “conclusive or substantial” evidence that some cannabinoids can be effective for treatment of chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and symptoms of multiple sclerosis, according to a 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

But there is limited evidence it helps those with many other conditions, including glaucoma, anxiety and PTSD. The Iowa Department of Public Health warns early research suggests taking high doses can make tremors worse in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug to treat any condition, and it has approved only a few cannabinoids and synthetic substances to treat some conditions. More research on safety and effectiveness is desperately needed.

State lawmakers, public opinion polls and voter referendums have become the deciding factors for whether certain drugs are available to patients. Politicians who are not medical experts pass laws giving their “blessing” to use cannabis for specific health conditions. That is not how legitimate medical treatment is supposed to work in this country.

Cannabinoids should be treated like every other medication and follow a regulatory pathway, based on clinical evidence, through the process established within the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The importance of this cannot be underestimated.

The agency requires scientific studies and issues guidelines for the use of drugs. It imposes manufacturing standards to ensure consistency across state lines. Doctors are trained to prescribe approved drugs, and pharmacists are trained to answer questions about them. Adverse events can be reported to gather information about safety over time.

All of that needs to exist for medical cannabis — especially when states including Iowa are legitimizing and expanding access to substances intended to help sick people.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. February 27, 2019.

Remembering an Iowa case’s win for rights

Iowa is not known as a hotbed for landmark court decisions, but it has had some significant cases involving our freedoms.

“The Case of Ralph,” was decided in 1839 by the Territorial Supreme Court, which ruled that a slave living in Iowa could retain his freedom, even though he was in financial arrears with his former owner. “No man in this territory can be reduced to slavery,” the justices stated. (The U.S. Supreme Court, whose majority hailed from slave states, saw it otherwise in 1857 with its Dred Scott decision. That position was subsequently nullified by ratification of the 14th Amendment.)

In 2009, some 170 years after “Ralph,” the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously upheld a District Court ruling and in Varnum v. Brien ruled that gay couples had the freedom to marry. That decision made Iowa only the third state to legalize gay marriage, a freedom the U.S. Supreme Court made the law of the land six years later.

Fifty years ago this week, a landmark federal ruling in an Iowa case protected the First Amendment freedoms of young people: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

In the 1960s, with the U.S. mired in the Vietnam War, expressions and demonstrations of anti-war sentiment were on the rise. In 1968, five students in Des Moines — four were members of the Tinker family — chose to wear black armbands to school in an expression of anti-war protest. That’s it. But even that was too much for administrators, who, as they had warned, suspended the three oldest students. (The two grade-schoolers were not punished.)

After the Eighth Circuit Court deadlocked on the matter, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, ruled that First Amendment protections extend to students in public schools and that school authorities can only censor speech that would significantly interfere with the discipline necessary for the school to function.

“Quietly and passively” wearing armbands, not impinging the rights of others, does not undermine discipline, the majority said, so the Des Moines school district’s policy was ruled unconstitutional.

Writing for the majority, Justice Abe Fortas stated that “students in school as well as out of school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution, possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect.”

Then as now, the Tinker ruling does not mean that anything goes. Public school administrators still retain wide latitude in setting and enforcing policy to maintain school order and discipline. As they should. But Tinker established a historic and important line that school officials must observe in respecting the rights of their students.

Everyone who cherishes the five freedoms contained in the First Amendment — even (and especially) when we happen to disagree with what is being expressed — should take a moment to reflect upon and celebrate what the Tinker decision of 50 years ago this week, a case from Iowa, means to our young citizens today.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. February 27, 2019

Judge selection process is at risk

Anyone who has to go to court should be able to do so knowing that the judge who will preside over their case is knowledgeable, fair and unswayed by politics.

For decades Iowans have been able to walk into courtrooms with a very high degree of certainity that the judge assigned to their case embodies all three of those characteristics.

The method used to select judges for more than 50 years is a major reason the state’s jurists inspire such confidence. To reduce partisanship in the courts, the election of state judges was stopped. The elections were replaced by a selection process in which panels of attorneys and citizens review the qualifications of potential judges. The attorneys on those panels are picked by their peers in the legal profession while the governor selects the citizens. The governor than selects judges from among the candidates submitted by those panels.

That system that has served Iowa so well is now under threat. Republicans who control both houses of the legislature want to have legislative leaders, rather than attorneys, pick members of the judicial nominating panels. Apparently, they want to do this because they’re unhappy about how Iowa courts have ruled recently on abortion and same sex-marriage.

This plan is a bad idea.

And to propose such a drastic change because certain elected officials don’t like how the courts ruled on specific issues runs counter to the reason that state leaders implemented the selection process all those years ago. This kind of thing is exactly what Iowa’s leaders were trying to prevent.

Iowa has an outstanding system for selecting judges. It must be preserved.

We call on all of Iowa’s elected officials to do the right thing. In this case, putting aside politics and upholding the time-tested non-political way of picking judges is the right thing to do.

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