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Medical Cannabis Bill Approved 36-12 by Iowa Senate

Posted on April 24, 2014 by News Admin

The Iowa Senate voted 36-12 Thursday after an emotional debate to pass a bill that would decriminalize medical cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy, responding to pleas of Iowa parents with children stricken by seizures.

Senate File 2360, which was sent to the Iowa House, was approved despite serious reservations by several Republican lawmakers who warned that legalizing any form of marijuana would send the wrong message to young people who are in jeopardy of abusing drugs.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, the bill's floor manager, recounted the stories of Iowa children who have suffered greatly –sometimes experiencing hundreds of seizures daily –and whose parents have frantically searched for remedies to alleviate, but not necessarily cure their children's ailments.

"This legislation responds to these stories in a compassionate Iowa way," said Bolkcom, adding that perhaps only a few hundred Iowans would directly benefit from the legislation.

The bill creates a licensing system for patients with "intractable" epilepsy and their caregivers to pursue treatment with cannabidiol, an oil derived from marijuana that has been shown to reduce seizures and improve other symptoms related to the illness.

The legislation says patients or their caregivers who receive a neurologist's recommendation for cannabidiol would be able to apply for a state-issued identification card allowing them to possess and use the oil without fear of prosecution under state marijuana laws.

The substance is not smokeable and contains low amounts of THC, the substance that gets users high.

The floor debate on the issue prompted strong emotions among both Democrats and Republicans, all of whom expressed empathy for parents with suffering children, but some who also had serious reservations about voting for anything associated with marijuana.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, told of coming from a family with brothers and a father who have experienced drug addiction. "This is a very hard vote for me," he said, explaining his compassion caused him to support the legislation.

Sen. Nancy Boettger, R-Harlan, said she her heart goes out to the parents of sick children. But she worried about how an affirmative vote would be perceived by teenagers all over Iowa reading that lawmakers have approved marijuana oil.

"Ladies and gentleman...i am really sorry, but I cannot vote for this bill today." Boetteger said.

Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, who has worked closely with many of the parents who has promoted the legislation, praised their activism and called the bill a small step forward for Iowa children.

"All we are giving these parents is another choice," Hatch said.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, said his swayed back and forth whether he would vote yes or no on the legislation. Ultimately, he voted against the bill, saying it was a "very, very difficult decision," but he had too many questions about the drug, including the fact that it is not approved by the Food and Drug Adminstration.

Bolkcom pointed out that 20 other state have already legalized medical cannabis oil, saying the legislation would simply allow Iowans to travel to state where cannabis oil is produced and to bring it home to legally possess . He noted that some of the most conservative states in the nation, including Utah and Alabama, have taken action to permit the marijuana-derived oil for sick persons.

But Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, expressed concerns about the fact that Iowans who acquire the drug in other states would be traveling across other states where cannabis oil is not legal, and that marijuana is not legal under federal law.

"I fear that by passing this legislation we will truly be setting ourselves up for some real problemsl with federal prosecution because we are just setting up a faslse sense of security. They will not be immune from federal prosecution and laws," Sinclair said.

The bill does not allow for the cultivation, production or sale of the oil, meaning patients or caregivers will have to obtain it in states with less restrictive medical marijuana rules. The measure contains provisions for reciprocity with other states that have programs for patients with epilepsy.

It is unclear, at this point, where exactly patients and caregivers may be able to obtain cannabidiol given the patchwork of state laws concerning medical marijuana and the availability of the highly specialized formulation of the oil. Some lawmakers have suggested Colorado, and parents said Wednesday they may have to go to Oregon, Michigan or elsewhere.

Posted in Cultivation, Iowa, Medical Marijuana