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Medical cannabis bill progresses

BY ALEKSANDRA VUJICIC | APRIL 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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A bill that would decriminalize the use of cannabis oil for epileptic patients was approved by a House subcommittee this past weekend and is being sent to the Public Safety Committee for debate.

The Iowa Senate approved the bill on April 25 on a 36-12 vote.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who drafted the bill, said he feels confident about the bill’s pending survival through the House.

“I am very optimistic that the bill is going to get to the governor’s desk and he’s going to sign the bill to help these families,” Bolkcom said.

The bill would enable patients suffering from intractable epilepsy to apply for a registration card that would allow them to possess and use cannabidiol without fear of criminalization. The patients, or their caregivers, would have to get a neurologist’s recommendation to use the oil as a last-resort treatment. The cannabinoid would also have to be acquired in a state where it is legal produce the cannabis.

Cannabidiol is a low-THC oil derived from the marijuana plant that has been used to attempt to reduce the number of seizures in epileptic patients.

Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, who is running for governor and has supported this bill for more than three years, said there is good bipartisan support for the bill in the House and strong alliances have been formed with legislators who once opposed the bill. He said the only uncertainty lies with the governor.

“If it fails, then I believe that the governor has failed in his ability as a leader to distinguish between something that is very restrictive and very helpful to a small group of parents, who know that this will significantly help their children get better and the culture of recreational marijuana where they have this bias against it,” Hatch said.

In a statement to The Daily Iowan,Gov. Terry Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said it’s important to note the bill hasn’t passed both chambers of the Legislature yet, in response to Hatch’s remark.

“Sen. Hatch appears to be ripping a page out of the Washington, D.C., playbook by casting blame and striking a hyper-partisan tone as a proposal works its way through the legislative process,” Centers said.

Centers said the governor will carefully review legislation on the matter if it should reach his desk.

“Gov. Branstad empathizes with individuals and families as they explore ways to treat medical aliments affecting them and their loved ones,” Centers said.

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, voted in favor of the bill, but he said his approval was because of the bill’s narrow focus. The main issue lies in the expansion of using marijuana derivatives and marijuana itself for a wide range of conditions, Johnson said.

He said the Senate debate last week was one of the most intense it has had for more than two years. The debate could have an effect on House legislators who are on the fence about this issue, Johnson said.

During the debate, Johnson said the main issues that opponents of the bill brought up included a lack of definitive findings by peer reviewed studies demonstrating the benefits of cannabinoid use for epileptic patients, issues with crossing states in which cannabis oil is not legal, and public perception of the drug being used for medical purposes.

“When senators like Bolkcom get up and talk about it as medicine, it’s dangerous. I’m disappointed in that kind of language,” Johnson said.


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