The Iowa Board of Pharmacy has given the green light to a series of public hearings about the use of medical marijuana.

Four such hearings, including one in Mason City, will be held from August through November. Dates have not been announced.

This follows a growing trend around the United States as lawmakers and government officials re-examine laws governing marijuana use. The drug once thought used only by dropouts is gaining new respectability.

Legalized marijuana, at least for medical purposes, is not as taboo as one might think. Marijuana use for medical purposes is legal in 13 states. That’s 13 state legislatures that have decided that there’s enough scientific evidence to back up the claim that marijuana has beneficial uses.

And what are those uses? Medical marijuana supporters say the drug can reduce pain, reduce muscle spasms, relieve nausea and increase appetite (no Cheech and Chong jokes, please). Supporters say cancer patients and AIDS sufferers are among those who have drawn real benefit from using this drug.

In a story published Wednesday, the Globe Gazette Des Moines Bureau introduced readers to George McMahon. The Livermore man is a participant in a medical program run by the federal government. Count McMahon among the believers.

“It was a miracle cure for me, and I’m wondering how many more people out there are just like me,” said McMahon, who suffers from spasms and nausea.

We don’t see the legal use of medical marijuana as likely in Iowa anytime soon. We’re approaching an election year and candidates will want to avoid as many hot-button issues as they can. The debates about same-sex marriage could be rancorous enough without an attempt to change decades of drug policy.

State Rep. Linda Upmeyer, a nurse practitioner and Republican from Garner, is interested in hearing what medical marijuana supporters have to say.

“I guess I don’t think it’s one of those political ‘third rails,’ ” Upmeyer said in Wednesday’s story. “I mean, I think people can have a reasonable discussion about it and either support it or not support it, but I think mostly, people need to know more.”

At this point, we are not ready to make an endorsement in this matter. We believe that while Iowans have a right to direct their own health care we’re not sure if medical marijuana is as good as advertised. We also worry about the social cost of the partial legalization of such an addictive drug.

But we’re willing to give this matter a listen. We think our readers should, too. This should be a thought-provoking debate, to say the least.

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