push causes to candidates
Iowa Presidential Politics.com
When Sen. John Kerry
campaigned on the University of Iowa campus at the end of October
he intended to talk about financial aid and rising tuition costs
with local students.
But one student had
something different in mind. U of I senior George Pappas approached
Kerry in front of about 50 people to ask the Massachusetts senator's
stance on medical marijuana.
Kerry told Pappas that
as president, he would put a stop to the Bush administration's raiding
of medical marijuana patients, adding that he favors more research
on the issue.
Pappas, the president
of the U of I chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, along
with about 20 others, is taking advantage of the time Democratic
candidates are spending in the state before Iowa's Jan. 19 caucus.
"This is one of
the most important social justice causes the country is facing right
now," said Pappas, 22, of Lombard, Ill. "Medical marijuana
is the number one issue in front of drug reform policy."
Other groups are similarly
hoping to get their chance in the spotlight while the candidates
are parading through Iowa. Two of the most visible so far besides
the student group have been Iowa for Health Care and the Every Child
Matters Education Fund.
Students involved in
the drug policy group say they know the idea of medical marijuana
has a certain "shock value" when raised at political gatherings.
Members say no one in the group condones smoking pot.
"There is such
an injustice being done when it comes to this," said drug policy
group member Natalie Wicklund, 20, of Bloomington, Ill., who had
two grandparents die of cancer. "I've seen what it's like to
watch someone suffer -there is research that shows marijuana helps
Although federal law
bans the use of marijuana, the Supreme Court ruled last month in
favor of state laws allowing ill patients to smoke the drug if a
doctor recommends it. In Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado,
Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, marijuana is legal
for people with prescriptions. The U of I drug policy group hopes
to add Iowa to this list of states. An additional 35 states have
passed legislation recognizing marijuana's medicinal value.
former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean at a Johnson County Democratic barbecue
last month about the issue. Although Dean, a medical doctor, says
marijuana should be treated no differently from any other drug,
Wicklund said she was impressed with how receptive Dean was to talk
Interest groups have
always focused on getting involved in the caucuses. These groups
have an incentive to try to get their ideas across not only to the
presidential candidates, but also to caucus participants, said U
of I political science professor David Redlawsk.
"Groups get access
to presidential candidates in a way they usually can't anywhere
else," he said. "The caucuses are not only about candidates
but also about issues."
Anyone who has attended
a campaign event probably has seen some of the 3,500 Iowa nurses,
donning their signature purple T-shirts and stethoscopes, questioning
candidates in past months about a universal health-care plan.
Each time the Democratic
contenders land at a state airport, they are immediately greeted
by a poster reading, "Running for president? Health care better
be your priority."
"Nurses have a
unique perspective from the bedside, so who better is there to be
the voice of this change in the country?" said Sarah Swisher,
director of Iowa for Health Care and a nurse at University Hospitals.
For example, Mary Jo Meggers, also a nurse at University Hospitals,
has already talked with Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, Kerry and Dean
about the harmful effects of soaring health care costs to her patients.
Volunteers from Every
Child Matters, a nonprofit organization that aims to make children
a higher political priority, is buying print and TV ads, along with
putting up yard signs and billboards. The Washington, D.C.-based
organization has three paid staffers and more than 500 volunteers
in Iowa, spokesman Tom La Pointe said.
The group is pushing
for programs to stop child abuse and improve child care and health
care for children.
For the most part, the Democratic candidates have been open to questions
asked by these interest groups, members say. However, members of
the drug policy group say some candidates are reluctant to talk
about the controversial marijuana issue.
At a "Hear it from
the Heartland" forum last month with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman,
Pappas said he sat intently in the audience waiting to fire off
a question about medical marijuana. He said he was "blown off"
by Lieberman staffers because they were screening questions.
Afterward, Pappas confronted
the senator in front of C-SPAN cameras to talk about medical use
of the drug and Lieberman answered Pappas' question.
Pappas said none of
the candidates he's spoken to has ignored him completely, and Lieberman
was the least receptive to the medical use of marijuana.
Lieberman does oppose
legalizing the drug and the senator isn't aware of any reputable
studies that support the use of it medicinally, campaign spokesman
Adam Kovacevich said.
Members of the student
drug policy group say they feel empowered.
"People our age
are finally realizing that we can work for things like this,"
marijuana: The candidates' positions on medical marijuana,
according to their campaigns:
Science is still unclear. There needs to be a high-level
Food and Drug Administration commission to determine right away
whether medical marijuana is the best way to treat pain.
Supports the use of real science to determine the effectiveness,
safety and need for the controlled medical use of marijuana. If
scientifically warranted, and studied by an objective commission,
the use must be closely restricted to prevent abuse and illegal
As a doctor, he believes marijuana should be treated no differently
from any other drug. It should be evaluated by the FDA for its safety
and then approved if it is safe and effective, rejected if it is
Disagrees with President Bush's methods of "harassing medical
marijuana patients" and instead favors medical marijuana being
used to relieve the suffering of seriously ill patients.
Is aware of reports that marijuana may provide therapeutic relief
for some individuals, but isn't aware of any reputable studies to
support this. He opposes legalizing a drug that many health professionals
believe has greater health risks than therapeutic benefits.
BRAUN: Is in favor of medicinal marijuana use.
Campaigns for Dick Gephardt,
Wesley Clark and Al Sharpton did not respond timely to requests
for information about their position on this issue.
Sara Faiwell at [email protected].
story was published in The
Des Moines Register on October 29, 2003.