Medical marijuana

These containers hold medical marijuana. Iowa lawmakers are being asked to expand the legal access to the drug.

AP file photo

Illinois officially stumbled into the hazy world of medical marijuana, where a mish-mosh of conflicting state laws try to reinvent tried-and-true pharmacology practices.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed Illinois’ medical marijuana bill, touted as the toughest in the nation. Perhaps. But in this nation, 20 state legislatures and the District of Columbia have dreamed up wildly inconsistent regulations that seem to overlook how modern medicine has regulated and prescribed narcotics for decades.

Anyone sick enough to need an opium-derived medication – Oxycodone, for example – can fill a prescription almost anywhere. Those needing medical marijuana are subject to various restrictions by different state legislatures.

The multiple sclerosis patient in Nevada is limited to an ounce at a time. The same patient in Oregon can hold a pound and a half. Maine patients can have up to six plants. Hawaiian patients are allowed up to seven plants, as long as four are not fully mature.

We are among those supporting cannabis prescriptions by medical professionals. We’re also eager to see Iowa and Illinois decriminalize the substance that is behind the incarceration of thousands of young people. Marijuana trafficking under U.S. and state laws creates far more criminals than addicts, and builds a law enforcement empire that reaps millions in seized cash and goods.

We supported Illinois’ medical marijuana bill as a first step towards a more rational drug policy. So we expect some awkward first steps in this process.

Illinois’ law won bipartisan support with tough provisions that would cripple the pharmaceutical industry if applied to other medications. For example, Illinois law allots one growing center for each state police district. What other medication is manufactured based on state police management structure?

But we understand police concerns. In Colorado, a different kind of state law allowed dispensaries to pop up all over the state, resulting in a usage rate that seems more influenced by marketing than ailment. Denver County, covering the capital city’s urban area, reports 2.8 percent of all residents hold a marijuana prescription. Neighboring suburban Adams County reports just 1.8 percent of all residents with a prescription.

All of these various state laws permit physicians to prescribe a raw substance that has yet to face Food and Drug Administration scrutiny.

Quad-City hospital leaders told Times health reporter Deirdre Baker that local physicians are only beginning to consider how they’ll respond to the new law.

Unlike the trade-name drugs widely advertised every day on TV, medical marijuana doesn’t have pharmaceutical reps plying physicians with lunches and trips in return for business. Right now, demand is created mainly by gravely ill patients struggling for relief from pain, nausea and other symptoms for which marijuana has proven helpful.

Despite legislation authorizing medical marijuana in 20 states and our nation’s capital, the American Medical Association and most state associations have stayed mum. The Illinois State Medical Society last Wednesday declared itself “neutral” on the issue.

With this absence of physician leadership, medical marijuana remains the province of critically ill patients and police.

Both deserve better.

Illinois medical professionals watched the same public legislative debate as everyone else, and now are staying silent as medical marijuana becomes law in their state. Now Illinois patients need guidance from their physicians.

Iowans likely will, too. All signs suggest growing support for medical marijuana across the nation. No need for Iowa physicians to wait for police and lawmakers to cobble together the 22nd version of this nationwide trend.