By Steve Elliott
The unthinkable has happened in Iowa, where a dying cancer patient -- along with his wife and son -- has been convicted for growing marijuana.
Benton Mackenzie, 48, faces a probable prison sentence after his Wednesday conviction on drug charges, which he views as a "death sentence," reports Grant Rodgers at The Des Moines Register. "I knew that's what they were going to do," Mackenzie said as his wife pushed him in a wheelchair leaving the courthouse, reports Brian Wellner at the Quad-City Times.
The unbelievable guilty verdict on four felony drug charges was delivered by Scott County jurors; Mackenzie's wife and son were also convicted alongside him.
Mackenzie said he used the plants to extract cannabis oil to treat a painful tumor on his buttock caused by angiosarcoma, a rare, aggressive form of cancer. The tumor has grown to the size of a grapefruit.
The case has drawn national attention to the barbarity of arresting cancer patients for treating themselves with cannabis. This year, Iowa legislators passed one of those "CBD-only" bills, narrowly crafted to allow parents with epileptic children to use cannabis oil as treatment, but that won't help the Mackenzies.
By Steve Elliott
Iowa's new CBD-only medical marijuana law takes effect July 1, a month after being signed by Governor Terry Branstad. The governor, like many other Republicans, had previously been a firm opponent of medical marijuana, but he signed this bill to allow parents to buy cannabis-based cannabidiol (CBD) oil to reduce their children's seizures.
Two-year-old Quinn Stumpf and her parents, April and Chad, played a big role in the passage of the bill, a very narrowly defined law that marks Iowa's first venture into medical marijuana, reports Josh O'Leary at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The Stumpf family visited Des Moines several times in recent months; one one of the trips, the parent sat down with Gov. Branstad in his office, and Quinn made an appearance on the Senate floor.
Quinn, who has a severe neurological disease, is on a long list of medicaitons and has endured more than 150 doctor visits and eight hospitalizations in her two years of life. "She's in pain, it seems like, all the time," April said of her daughter.
"They haven't given us the best prognosis for Quinn, but to know she's helped make a difference in so many lives and touched so many people, for her to have done that at such a young age is something we're really proud of," April said. "No matter what happens with her, we know she's made an impact on so many lives."
By Steve Elliott
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said he will sign a bill legalizing the use of cannabidiol oil (CBD oil), a non-psychoactive concentrate derived from marijuana.
Families with kids suffering from epilepsy went to Iowa legislators this year asking for their help, reports KWWL.
At first, Gov. Branstad opposed the plan, claiming he was worried about "unintended consequences" like "drug abuse." The Governor didn't explain how legalizing a substance which doesn't get anyone high would do that.
The Governor claimed he "had empathy" for families who believe CBD helps quell seizures. But he still fretted over signing the bill.
"I think it would be a mistake to look at now expanding it to a whole bunch of other things," Branstad said, reports AP, evidently believing the suffering of epilepsy patients is somehow more deserving of relief than that of patients with other maladies. "I think we need to look at this as a very careful experiment that we and other states like Utah and Alabama are doing and see if it really does have the efficacy that the families hope it has."
By Steve Elliott
An Iowa man claims the burger he got from a local McDonald's drive-through had marijuana on it.
"I've seen a lot of stuff, but never something like this," said Lt. Jason Bell of the Ottumwa Police Department, reports Shaina Humphries of KCCI. "I really haven't had a lot of investigations where I've focused so much on cheeseburgers."
Ottumwa police said they were investigating the case; they said a man bought the burger for his pregnant fiance. "They're alleging that they received some, an order from the McDonald's that had some suspected marijuana on the hamburgers," Bell explained.
A sample was sent to the Division of Criminal Investigation for analysis, according to police. If the substance is indeed cannabis, they say it's a mystery why someone would do this.
The cops are investigating everybody from the McDonald's employees to the couple who reported the bud-burger. The restaurant remains open, reports Katherine Klingseis at The Des Moines Register.
"We are exploring all possibilities at this point, and that factor is one thing we're considering with the investigation," Bell said. "It's more of a serious allegation against a business in the community. In any business, we want to make sure we come to the best possible conclusion on where it originated from."
By Steve Elliott
A vast majority of Iowans support allowing doctors to authorize medical marijuana use for ailing patients, according to new poll results released on Monday.
A Quinnipiac University Poll found that a whopping 87 percent of state residents support medical marijuana, with just 17 percent opposed, according to the poll, reports James Q. Lynch at the Des Moines Bureau of the Sioux City Journal. Incredibly, every party, gender and age group measured had at least 68 percent support for medical marijuana in the poll.
What's more, that strong level of support is comparable to other states, according to Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
"Iowans overwhelmingly think marijuana should be legal for medical purposes, but most voters oppose legalizing personal recreational use," Brown said. There was a big difference when it came to recreational use: "Opposition to personal marijuana is higher in Iowa than in any state we've surveyed so far on this subject," he said.
Efforts in the Iowa Legislature to legalize medical marijuana failed to gain traction in this year's session. Republican and Democratic lawmakers admit there is "more interest" about medical marijuana, but what we aren't seeing is the kind of tectonic shifts in public policy that would take place in a true representative democracy when an issue has 87 percent support.
By Steve Elliott
A medical marijuana bill in the Iowa Legislature died on Tuesday, the same day it was introduced.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), would have allowed patients with certain medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor's authorization, report Brian Wellner and Mike Wiser at the Quad-City Times. Sen. Bolkcom said he wasn't able to get any help from Republican legislators, who he said have shown "little interest" in endorsing the legislation.
"There's disappointment we were not able to recruit bipartisan support for a very narrow bill to help these families with children suffering from seizures as a result of epilepsy," Bolkcom said. "We're not going to be successful creating a program until we have bipartisan support for it. so we have a lot of education work to do ahead here."
Senate File 2215, Bolkcom's bill, was referred to Human Resources for assignment, but won't be assigned by the "funnel week" deadline, in which all bills have to make it through the committee process by Friday in order to be continued this session. "It's dead," Bolkcom said.
Advocates, including Tina McDermott of Davenport, were devastated by the news. Her son suffers from Dravet syndrome, a form of epilepsy with severe seizures. "I could cry I'm so disappointed," McDermott said.
"There's not even a chance for our kids," McDermott said. "Unbelievable. I know I"m not going to quit, but today was a big day."
By Steve Elliott
Sometimes, you just have to shake your head and ask, "What the hell is the matter with people?" A terminal cancer patient and his entire family was arrested in Iowa -- including his parents, in their 70s -- because he uses medical marijuana.
Benton Mackenzie, 47, is expected to die from the terminal angiosarcoma cancer which he's battling; he uses medical marijuana, including cannabis oil, to manage his pain. The oil has proven effective for his cancer-related skin lesions, an experience some doctors say make him worth studying, reports Ed Krayewski at Reason.com.
"Instead of putting this guy in jail, somebody should be studying him," said Dr. Charles Goldman, a cancer surgeon at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. "I think Iowa is going against the current of history."
Local sheriff's deputy Dan Furlong began investigating Mackenzie's "drug activity" in 2010, reports Brian Wellner at the Quad-City Times. Furlong claimed that Mackenzie recruited a high school friend, "convicted felon" Stephen Bloomer, to help him grow marijuana.
Deputies pulled Bloomer over in May; he was driving a car registered to Mackenzie, without a license. They also spotted Bloomer walking in the same neighborhood where Mackenzie's parents live.
By Steve Elliott
An Iowa lawmaker has said he will introduce two bills in the upcoming session of the Legislature which would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) said that similar efforts have failed over the past decade, reports The Associated Press.
"I think we're a cautious state, we have some conservative views on this issue," Sen. Bolkcom said. "I think what has been missing in Iowa is the compelling stories and recently, people are courageously coming forward and are sharing stories about not getting the care they need."
Bolkcom said one of the bills he plans to introduce would reclassify cannabis as a drug with medical benefits, and the other bill would create a medical marijuana program modeled after the one currently operating in New Mexico.
According to a 2010 poll for The Des Moines Register, 64 percent of Iowans support legalizing medical marijuana, but many lawmakers have been wishy washy.
Gov. Terry Branstad does not support medical marijuana, according to spokesman Tim Albrecht.
State Rep. Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield), chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, is also a vocal opponent of medicinal cannabis. "In my opinion this movement is based on one thing and that's to legalize marijuana to get high," said former state trooper Baudler.
By Steve Elliott
An Iowa man who was arrested Friday night for allegedly having 20 bags of marijuana had an interesting answer for police.
Robbie Lee Sykes, 27, of Des Monies, told an officer he was going to a "twerk fest" at the Marquee. "Girls like marijuana," Sykes allegedly told the cop, adding that he was hoping to "pick up some girls" at the dance party, the police report states, according to The Des Moines Register.
Sykes was pulled over shortly before midnight for allegedly crossing the center line on Walnut Street. Sykes told the officer he had a gun on his lap and had a weapons permit, the police report states.
After allegedly smelling marijuana in the car, the officer searched Sykes and found "20 bags" (no word on how much was in each bag -- grams? eighths?) of marijuana, a rolled blunt, $100 in cash and a .40-caliber handgun, in addition to the .38-caliber revolver Sykes had in his lap, according to the police report.
(Photo: The Des Moines Register)
By Steve Elliott
An Iowa man who worked as a rodeo clown in local and national rodeos faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison after being convicted Friday of conspiracy to "manufacture marijuana."
Federal prosecutors claim Rory Meeks, 55, of Marion, Iowa, planted cannabis along corn and soybean fields in rural areas of Jones County, tending the plants all summer, reports the Iowa Press-Citizen.
Authorities claim Meeks and others harvested and dried the plants each fall, then sold the marijuana for several years in a row.
Jurors found Meeks guilty, after a three-day trial, of growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants between 2004 and 2011. He had been acquitted of one count of manufacturing marijuana in April 2011.
Meeks performed as a clown for prominent Iowa City-area charities. He now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $20 million fine, and at least 10 years of supervised release following imprisonment.
By AP Staff
DES MOINES, Iowa — Some Democrats in the state Senate want to make marijuana available to critically ill Iowans.
Legislators on Wednesday introduced a bill that allows some use of medical marijuana in the state. Under the bill, a patient with a qualifying condition, such as cancer, could get a prescription for medical marijuana. The law also allows for the creation of nonprofit dispensaries to provide marijuana to eligible patients.
Sen. Jack Hatch, one of the bill's sponsors, says the proposal would help those with chronic pain. He acknowledged the legislation has little chance of becoming law because of opposition by Republican lawmakers, but he says the bill increases public awareness of the potential benefits of medical marijuana.
Marijuana is legal for medical use in 18 states and Washington, D.C.
By Cindy Hadish, KCRG Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The Iowa Board of Pharmacy has taken its final step regarding medical marijuana.
Board members on Wednesday, Nov. 24, drew up a bill for the Iowa Legislature to consider in January that would reclassify marijuana as a schedule II drug.
Marijuana is currently considered a schedule I drug in Iowa. Changing the classification would open its use for medicinal purposes like other prescription drugs, but not without further action, said Executive Director Lloyd Jessen.
First, the board’s action is only a recommendation to the Legislature, he said.
“They can react to it or ignore it,” Jessen said. “It doesn’t make it available for use at all, but it (would) change the classification.”
Legislators would also need to set up a “compassionate use” program, as 16 other states have done, to allow its use for medicinal purposes, he said.
Federal law prohibits its use, but the current administration is not enforcing that law in states that have medical marijuana programs.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration could also make changes that would allow the use of medical marijuana, Jessen said.
Members of Iowans for Medical Marijuana attended the board’s meeting in Des Moines.
Jessen said legislators could still ask the board to administer a medical marijuana program.
By DI Editorial Board
A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers is putting forth legislation to legalize the growth of cannabis, or hemp. The Industrial Hemp Development Act (HF 608) would provide licenses to qualified farmers for the cultivation of hemp, after passing background checks, of course. Iowa lawmakers must pay close attention to the progress of Minnesota’s hemp act; its success or failure may signal how a similar act would fair here. Regardless of the reaction of our neighbors to the north, hemp production will dramatically change the face of agriculture in America, and Iowans need to be out ahead of this increasingly popular trend.
Seven states — Hawaii, West Virginia, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Kentucky, and North Dakota — have legalized hemp production; however, not one is producing the crop because of resistance from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Hemp farmers in North Dakota are granted licenses by the state, but they are required to obtain separate permits from the DEA. The agency has continually refused to accept applications, leading farmers in North Dakota to file a lawsuit against the federal government.
A common complaint among law-enforcement agencies at all levels of government is that monitoring acres of hemp for hidden pockets of marijuana would be next to impossible. This idea is, in fact, very reasonable, because hemp and marijuana are members of the same species, cannabis.