Bolkcom talks medical marijuana ahead of session


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For Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, legalization of medical marijuana is about improving the lives of children in Iowa.

“I’m focused on providing health care for suffering Iowans,” said Bolkcom.

Iowa lawmakers are no strangers to the medical-marijuana debate. During the last session, the lawmakers passed a bill legalizing the use of cannabis oil for epileptic patients. Bolkcom described the legislation as “basically completely ineffective for families.”

“If we can figure out how to produce and supply the plant right here in the state, we’ll eliminate this issue,” he said.

His advocacy for this issue is not new, and on Thursday, he attended the College of Public Health’s Health Management and Policy Department to speak how the state can capitalize on its progress on the topic.

This lecture is part of a series put on by Professor Chris Atchison for his Contemporary Issues in Health Policy class.

“We’re inviting speakers in who are part of the policy process,” Atchison said. “The goal with Bolkcom was to have him analyze the strengths and weaknesses of certain legislation.”

Bolkcom said part of the problem is that lawmakers were hesitant to show support for such a controversial topic during an election year.

“There was this fear that there would be campaign slogans sayings things like, ‘Look — Sen. Bolkcom is giving drugs to your kids,’” he said.

On the contrary, he argues, no Iowa legislator lost her or his seat because of the vote.

“Now that it’s survived an election, [the legislators] should come back more relaxed toward the topic,” he said.

Cultural bias has also been blamed in holding up the dialogue.

“I think it’s kind of generational thing,” said TJ Sayre, a sophomore pharmacy and public health major who attended the lecture. “The stigma against it has been built up quite a bit in the last century.”

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said marijuana’s history of disapproval in the United States has caused a lack of scientific data on the substance.

Despite this, Sinclair said, she is not opposed to examining the value of marijuana as a medical treatment, and she is not the only conservative with such sentiments.

In fact, Bolkcom contended all states currently allowing the medical use of cannabis worked across the aisle to pass the necessary legislation.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he said. “It’s about providing sufficient health care for Iowans.”

The Iowans Bolkcom spoke of are young children suffering from severe epileptic seizures with no effective drug on the market to help them.

The families of these children have served as extremely influential lobbyists for the cause, Bolkcom said.

“The mothers did a powerful job in pushing senators,” he said. “And kids are very hard to refuse.”

During the event, Bolkcom said Iowa has the advantage of learning from the states that have already gone through this process.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here,” he said.

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