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Iowans overwhelmingly support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, but they don’t support allowing recreational uses, a new Iowa Poll shows.
Wochit

Legislation authorizing the use of medical marijuana is quickly moving through the Iowa Senate with the goal of providing help for patients with cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and a host of other ailments.

But the bill appears to face a major roadblock in House, where there aren’t enough votes within the Republican caucus to pass the  Senate bill, according to House Republican leaders.

Senate Study Bill 1190, labeled The Compassionate Use of Cannabis Act, was approved on a 3-0 subcommittee vote Wednesday morning and it cleared Senate Appropriations Committee on a voice vote Wednesday afternoon. Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, said the bill could be approved by the full Senate as early as Monday, which would send the measure to the House for consideration.

“This is not just a statement bill. We would like to get this through the House and down to the governor’s desk,” said Schneider, a supporter of medical cannabis. Lawmakers need to act soon, however, because the 2017 session could end next week.

The Senate bill would allow for patients with a range of medical conditions to obtain a medical cannabis registration card after receiving written approval from a doctor. The card would enable a patient to obtain medical marijuana from a dispensary in Iowa. It would legalize the production and distribution of medical marijuana in Iowa and would legally reclassify marijuana under state law.

Sally Gaer holds her daughter Margaret’s medical cannabis patient card in West Des Moines. The state of Iowa paid $115,000 to create the cards. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

House Republicans don’t appear ready to support that level of expansion.

“We couldn’t pass that before. I think we still have problems with that,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, told reporters Wednesday. But House Republicans said they haven’t closed the door on the topic, although they are focused on expanding availability of cannabis oil rather than wide-ranging medical marijuana legislation.

Patient, families plead for help

Karrie Anderson, a Grimes resident who has multiple sclerosis, recounted to lawmakers her trials with illness during Wednesday’s Senate subcommittee meeting. She told of repeated hospitalizations, failed attempts to seek relief through multiple types of medication, and having to leave her job and file for disability benefits.

“When you live with a chronic disease, you look for any flicker of hope,” Anderson said. “Please let us have this responsible option and give us this chance.”

Sally Gaer, of West Des Moines, said her 27-year-old daughter, Margaret, who has epilepsy, has been helped by cannabis oil. Her daughter sleeps better, is more active and has had cognitive improvement. But she believes the new legislation could help her daughter with seizure control by providing small amounts of medical cannabis.

“Please move this bill quickly,” Gaer said.

Medical conditions eligible for medical marijuana would include: cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, AIDS or HIV, hepatitis C, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, any terminal illness subject to certain conditions, intractable pain, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, complex regional pain syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and any other chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its medical treatment approved by state officials.

Smoking marijuana not included

Bruce Beeston, a lobbyist for the Veterans National Recovery Center, spoke in support of the Senate bill, but he asked lawmakers to accommodate veterans who want to smoke medical marijuana. The legislation does not allow smoking of marijuana, but some veterans with PTSD are already smoking marijuana, not using medical cannabis, to successfully relieve their symptoms, he said.

“There is a good portion of my community that will tell you that you are nuts” by banning the smoking of marijuana, Beeston said.

The bill requires state officials to license at least four but no more than twelve medical cannabis manufacturers by Dec 1, 2017, and to license 12 medical cannabis dispensaries by April 2, 2018.

Iowans are now allowed to possess cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy. But it’s illegal to manufacture or distribute that oil in the state, and federal law prohibits its transportation across state lines. In practice, that makes it illegal for Iowans to obtain the product. The law was enacted in 2014 but is scheduled to expire in July, leaving no state law in its place.

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House Speaker Upmeyer said Wednesday she is not necessarily opposed to allowing marijuana to be grown in Iowa and distributed as a medicinal product within the state’s borders. But she said she and others are trying to consider the economic viability of such a program as well as the implications under federal law.

A bill is still alive in the House that would extend the sunset date of the current cannabis oil program and make available a cannabis-based product called Epidiolex once it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Those two things would, I think, be done either way,” Upemeyer said. “But I think there’s an opportunity to do more. I’m just not sure (the Senate’s legislation) is the bill.”

Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, who has had a lead role in drafting medical marijuana legislation in the House, agreed with Upmeyer that the House Republicans favor a more limited approach than offered in the Senate bill. For example, he said he wants to avoid a loosely-regulated system where almost anyone could claim to have an illness in an effort to obtain medical marijuana.

“We are focused on the oil, focused on science,” Klein said. “We want something that cannot be abused. We are definitely opposed to recreational use, so we are trying to not let much through.”

Minority Democrats in the House and Senate have generally supported the legalization of medical marijuana. But Republican lawmakers have been divided on the issue with some GOP legislators saying that legalizing medical cannabis goes too far and violates federal regulations, which still outlaw medical and recreational use of marijuana.

Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, a pharmacist who is closely monitoring the legislation, said he is hoping House Republicans will seriously consider the Senate bill because it is a comprehensive proposal that will help Iowans statewide.

“I do have some concerns because of the increased number of medical conditions that are being covered by the Senate bill,” Forbes said. “But with education for House Republican members, I am hoping that they are able to accept this bill and move it forward to help people in Iowa who are suffering with many chronic conditions.”

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