Quincy La France


Updated: The Iowa Board of Pharmacy ruled against medical marijuana. Read the story here.

Quincy La France started his Monday morning with a series of seizures.

When he got to school, his mother, Maria La France of Des Moines, said, he became so twitchy that someone had to call her. She said her 12-year-old epileptic son had just come off another rough weekend.

"He needs cannabis," she said. "We've run out of pharmaceutical options."

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy is expected to decide today whether it will write rules to reclassify marijuana.

La France had petitioned the board in January and spoke to its members for 20 minutes last week.

"I gave them a stack of papers that had almost 1,000 Iowans who support a medical cannabis program with stories of their own," she said.

The board's executive director, Lloyd Jessen, said the board will release a written decision this afternoon. It has scheduled an hour in the morning to hear from both advocates and opponents.

Iowa law, like federal law, says marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use.” But buried under a code is an exception for marijuana "as otherwise provided by rules of the board for medicinal purposes."

The pharmacy board has the authority to rewrite those rules. But even if the board OK'd La France's petition, medical marijuana still would need legislative approval.

Given that last month a medical marijuana bill introduced by Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City died instantly, he doesn't think a bipartisan rules committee would push any new marijuana plan forward this year.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad reiterated his stance against medical marijuana Monday, telling reporters, “I think we have to be careful about drafting our laws just for a few people that have a particular problem or ailment."

Bolkcom remains optimistic.

"I think there will be a tipping point in the future," he said.

Support for a program seems to be growing in Iowa as 20 other states, including Illinois, have passed medical marijuana laws.

The ACLU sent a letter to the pharmacy board Friday, stating it supports La France's petition.

"The (pharmacy) board has the support of the clear majority of Iowans should it choose to exercise its ability to be responsive to the needs of sick Iowa patients," the ACLU letter signed by its legal director, Rita Bettis, stated.

The letter quoted a March 6 Des Moines Register poll that found 59 percent of Iowans support legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Benton Mackenzie, a terminal cancer patient awaiting trial in Scott County for growing marijuana, is preparing to speak at the pharmacy board's meeting via telephone from his home in Long Grove.

"I see a lot of change coming about," Mackenzie said. "If my mom can have a change of heart, anyone can."

Tina McDermott of Davenport also wants to attend the meeting to show her support for a medical marijuana program but can't.

She said her 7-year-old son, Ryan, has been at University Hospitals in Iowa City for several days this week after the pharmaceutical Depakote he takes for his epilepsy caused pancreatitis.

"I watched them pump five medications into my son to stop his seizures," McDermott said. "One after another after another. I could almost throw up.

"It's not the doctors' fault. Their hands are tied. They didn't have a choice."