Advocates continue push for medical marijuana bill, but final version remains to be seen

Iowa State Capitol Building (MGN Online)

As lawmakers were slowly working their way towards the end of the legislative session Thursday, medical marijuana advocates were at the statehouse and waiting from home to see what the final action would be.

Cara Heppler of Marion is monitoring the issue from home. She said during a phone interview she remains hopeful for the Senate's version of medical marijuana legislation, saying it's something that would help her son Jack, who has intractable epilepsy.

Also known as the "Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act," the bill legalizes the production and dispensing of medical cannabis in Iowa. It covers more than a dozen medical conditions under the program and smoking of marijuana would be banned. It passed earlier in the week, 45 to 5.

Under the current medical cannabidiol program, Iowans are forced to obtain the oil from out of state, leaving it ineffective due to federal law.

"He has had to have a reduced schedule at school because of the seizure activity, so I've had to stop working," Heppler said. "It's just hard on our whole family."

Heppler said her son's also tried 10 different medications.

"None of them have worked and have had bad side effects," she said. "This bill would be a really great step in the right direction, I think."

Amanda Vaughan of Glidden was at the statehouse with several other advocates in the morning, setting up meetings with lawmakers to share her story, as well as the stories of several other patients who, like her, have multiple sclerosis.

"I'm not going to stop without a fight," she said. "This is my life."

But the question remains at the statehouse -- if House lawmakers will support more expansion than what's in their version of the bill that's on the calendar.

As of Thursday evening, the House's version for a medical cannabis bill was on the calendar but still hasn't been debated. The bill in its current form would repeal the sunset date for the current Medical Cannabidiol Act and outline guidelines for cannabis-based drugs that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat epilepsy.

Vaughan hopes lawmakers will support something beyond that language.

"There are days I don't get out of bed," she said. "That's not fair to my kids, it's not fair to my husband. It's not fair to me -- that I should lay in bed all the time and not be able to live my life."

Heppler remains firm the conditions covered under the Senate bill is what is needed.

"I don't think the bill is too broad, I think it's right where it should be," she said.

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