Support rises from both parties to legalize medical marijuana in Iowa


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The debate about medical marijuana is growing, with both support and opposition from all sides of the political spectrum.

A bill proposed on Jan. 16 by Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, aims to legalize marijuana use for those considered to suffer from  chronic illnesses.

“Should they be made a criminal because they want to get rid of pain?” Hunter said.

If the bill passes, patients would need recommendations from their physicians and would need to suffer from such conditions as AIDS, Crohn’s disease, seizures, and other chronic conditions.

“They’ve talked to the doctors, and in between the two of them, they’ve decided marijuana is a possible alternative to relieve pain,” Hunter said.

The medical side of the debate is important in passing the bill, and some believe that smoking marijuana does provide benefits.

Daniel O’Leary, a University of Iowa professof of psychiatry who researches the effects of marijuana on cognition and brain blood flow, agrees, although he does not call himself an expert on medical marijuana.

“I think it is clear that there are a great many benefits from the use of medical marijuana and very little downside,” he said.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, believes that if medical marijuana were to become legalized, it would need the full support of the medical community.

“What’s really needed is more health-care officials to make recommendations,” he said.

This is the second time Hunter has proposed the bill, but he believes it will go further this time.

“I’m mostly getting positive responses from colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” he said.Support for medical marijuana seems to ignore party lines.

“We should utilize anything that’s naturally occurring,” said Jeffrey Shipley, a member of the Republican State Central Committee. “I take the Christian approach that if God put it on the planet, it’s meant to be utilized.”

Shipley believes medical marijuana use should have already been legalized.

“We should have had medical marijuana back in 2009,” he said. “I think it’s terrible that government would get in the way of medicine that could relieve pain.”

However, not all Republicans are on the same page.

“I personally would not be in favor of it,” said Rep. Ralph Watts, R-Adel. “Medical marijuana is just an opening. They just want to legalize it — that’s their ultimate goal.”

Hunter, however, does not see a correlation between medical marijuana legalization and an increase in recreational use.

“If you look at the states that have passed it for medical reasons, there hasn’t been a hard-core push to get it passed for recreational reasons,” he said. “They are also not seeing recreation use go up.”

And although Watts and Peter Komendowski, the president of Drug Free Iowa, come from opposite sides of the political spectrum, they agree that medical marijuana shouldn’t be legalized.

“For no reason do I think that smoking is medically viable,” Komendowski said. “It makes no sense.”

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