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September 3, 1997
Use Of Medical Marijuana Not A Probation Violation, Iowa Judge Affirms
September 4, 1997, Waterloo, IA:
An Iowa judge denied a motion to reconsider an earlier ruling stating that defendant Allen
Helmers' use of marijuana for medical purposes does not violate terms of his
probation. District Court Judge Jon Fister based his ruling on a 1979 state law
rescheduling marijuana when it is used medicinally.
"Because there was no medical testimony to support the contention that [the] defendant's chronic pain can be managed without the use of marijuana and because the assistant county attorney previously admitted that marijuana can be prescribed for medicinal purposes under Iowa law, the Court ruled that [Helmers] would continue on supervised probation until the conflict between federal law, which does not permit the prescription of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and Iowa law, which does, is resolved," Judge Fister affirmed in an August 13 decision.
In issuing his ruling, Fister rejected the state's claim that marijuana cannot legally be prescribed in Iowa because the board of pharmacy examiners never adopted rules to regulate its medicinal use. "The first flaw in this argument is that it depends on the novel proposition that a state agency ... can do an end run around the general assembly and the governor and amend [state law] by its own action or inaction," Fister decided. "The second flaw in this argument is that nothing prevents the board from adopting any rules it deems appropriate. If there are no marijuana specific rules, it may be assumed that the board sees no need to regulate the medicinal use of marijuana any more than any other [drug.]"
Fister stated that his ruling does not reflect a view that marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes, but merely addresses discrepancies in state and federal law. He said he would again review the terms of Helmers' probation if the Iowa Legislature opted to repeal the state's medical marijuana law.
Law enforcement arrested Helmers in 1995 after seizing three ounces of marijuana from his home. Helmers contended that he uses marijuana to treat chronic pain brought on by fibromyalgia and back problems. He received two five-year prison sentences for marijuana possession and failure to possess an Iowa drug tax stamp, but the judge suspended the sentence in favor of probation. Prosecutors later accused Helmers of violating his probation after he tested positive for THC in August and October 1995.
Judge Fister also ruled that the state will not be allowed to drug test Helmers for the remainder of his probation.
Presently Iowa and three other states -- New Mexico, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia -- have laws rescheduling marijuana when it is used for medical purposes.
NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup praised Judge Fister's ruling and said that the case illustrated the need for Congress to pass H.R. 1782, the "Medical Use of Marijuana Act." H.R. 1782 seeks to eliminate federal restrictions which currently interfere with an individual state's decision to permit the medicinal use of marijuana, Stroup noted.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or Carl Olsen of Iowa NORML @ (515) 288-5798.
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