Retirement Party: State Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield

Remembering the time the tough-on-crime former state trooper lied about having hemorrhoids to score a medical marijuana card in California

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Icon: Becris/Noun Project, photo illustration by Gavin Aronsen/Iowa Informer

Part of a series looking at state lawmakers who have said they don’t plan to run for re-election in 2018.

A retired state trooper and member of the NRA’s board of directors who’s served in the Iowa House since 1999, Clel Baudler for years has burnished his tough-on-crime cred, most recently by introducing a bill this year that would have reversed the state’s decision in 1965 to abolish the death penalty. But even he’s had enough of some of his party’s extremism: The Greenfield Republican, unhappy about the wholesale gutting of workers’ rights last year and fast approaching the age of 79, announced his retirement in January.

Still, if there’s one thing Baudler likely won’t be doing in retirement, it’s mellowing out with a jay. When the pro-pot nonprofit Marijuana Policy Project named him the seventh worst state lawmaker in the country in 2013, he told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that he would “wear this as a badge of honor” and “try a lot harder to become No. 1 next year.” Baudler, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, was targeted by the group for his opposition to a medical marijuana bill he argued would be the “top one or two or three stupidest bills” in half a century in Iowa to become law (it didn’t). Comparing “this legalization of people getting high” to when the drinking age was 18 during the Vietnam War — “the No. 1 stupidest” law — the former state trooper said, “We killed a helluva lot of more people on the highways than in Vietnam during that period.”

Four years earlier, when the Iowa Board of Pharmacy was holding hearings on the possibility of establishing a medical marijuana program in the state — thanks to relentless legal challenges by Des Moines activist Carl Olsen — Baudler joked that he would travel to California to bullshit his way into getting a medical marijuana card to reveal the dangers of establishing a similar program in Iowa.

Although in reality the pharmacy board was considering a far stricter program than the Golden State’s, which in practice was essentially backdoor legalization, this didn’t deter Baudler, who in 2011 actually made the trip out west. What followed was comedy gold, served up by the lawmaker himself in a letter to constituents detailing his trip. “In essence, I got my prescription to show how asinine it would be to legalize ‘medical marijuana,’” he wrote, mistakenly referring to the recommendation he got from an “oriental ‘doctor’” who “only spoke broken English” as a prescription.

He went on:

I asked my son to take me on Redondo Beach, leave me and I would give him a call when I was done. He refused to do it stating that I would probably get in trouble. He said, “I’ll take you to Venice Beach. It’s weirder,” and to put it bluntly, he was right.

We got there, saw a large green cross over a doorway, found a parking spot, and walked up to The Green Cure Distribution Center. I rang the doorbell, someone looked out a window in the door and let us in. I explained to them that I wanted “medical marijuana,” and was admitted immediately by an armed security guard that had to weigh close to 110 pounds. He had ten earrings on and about his face and ears, and (in my mind) way over the legal limit on tattoos. I told him I was from Iowa, and he explained I did not need to live in California to get a prescription, but I would need some type of paper indicating I had an address in California i.e. water bill, bank statement, etc. After our meeting, he scheduled an appointment for me at the Inglewood Health Services Center.

My son and I watched the distribution center for quite some time before leaving. No one was seen going in, but the people coming out were 35 or under in various stages of drug intoxication (high). We went to the “health center” in an abandoned manufacturing building/office. I walked in, was asked for my identification at which point I produced my Iowa drivers license. I was asked for $45, handed them a $50 bill and they gave me 5 Susan B. Anthony gold dollars and asked me to fill out a six-page document which would take approximately 30-45 minutes. I finished this document in under eight minutes, and the only things I lied about were hemorrhoids, depression and I state that I did not have health insurance.

I was immediately seen by the “doctor.” He was in a large office, furnished by two folding chairs, and old tin desk, and a card table. There was nothing on the walls, and two windows with no curtains. I spent 15 minutes with this “doctor” and six of those were used attempting to overcome the language barrier between us (he was an oriental “doctor” and only spoke broken English.) I was then given my prescription, he signed it, I signed it and I walked out.

“Some of the states that have legalized ‘medical marijuana’ are now having trouble ‘putting the toothpaste back in the tube,’” Baudler explained in his letter, rationalizing his covert anti-pot operation. “They are attempting to backpedal, which is proving extremely difficult.”

The stunt led to some speculation in Iowa about whether Baudler could be censured for it, because he appeared to have admitted breaking the law under California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which prohibited medical marijuana patients from “fraudulently represent[ing] a medical condition or fraudulently provid[ing] any material misinformation to a physician.” In the end, nothing came of it.

More recently, Baudler has come around a bit on medical marijuana. In November 2016, with a very limited medical marijuana law set to expire the following July, he told the Des Moines Register that he planned to introduce a bill allowing for the production and sale of medical cannabis oil. “Last year there was a hodgepodge of panic, if you will, in my caucus to do something,” he said. “Well, if we’re going to do something, let’s do something smart.” The next year, he voted for a bill that became law which calls for the establishment of up to five dispensaries for medical cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. That process is currently underway.

Republicans were prepared for Baudler’s retirement from House District 20. Shortly after he announced it, fellow Greenfield resident Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, a 38-year-old art studio owner known for painting the Freedom Rock off of Interstate 80 by the town of Menlo, stepped in. He will face primary challenger Dodge Michael Perrigo, a 22-year-old body shop operator from Redfield, to see who goes up against Democrat Warren Varley of Stuart in the general election for the district, where active Republican voters outnumber active Democrats 6,486 to 4,391 (PDF).

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.