Advocates still pushing for expanded medical cannabis law

Iowans hope legislators will support expansion of medical marijuana in the state. (Photo: KGAN)

Sally Gaer hopes lawmakers can ensure suffering Iowans can get the help they need without legal roadblocks.

Gaer's daughter, Margaret, has Dravet Syndrome, which is a form of intractable epilepsy. She started using cannabidiol purchased from another state more than a year ago, and Gaer says things are a lot different.

"Immediately she started sleeping through the night," Gaer said. "So for us, after 25 years of not sleeping through the night, that's been really helpful. We've decreased a couple of seizure medications. She's talking more. She's doing a little bit more -- we just have a long way to go in weening seizure medications."

Gaer is part of a group called "Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis," comprised of advocates and patients urging lawmakers to pass expanded medical marijuana laws. The Medical Cannabidiol Act from 2014 is set to expire in July 2017.

"We need a new law this session," Gaer said. "And we would really like to see medical cannabis grown, produced, tested and dispensed in Iowa, by Iowans, for Iowans, so that people that need it who are out of options with their diseases, that have tried everything else, that have nowhere else to turn, can get access in Iowa."

A bill that would've allowed Iowans to produce and dispense cannabis oil and covering more conditions than just epilepsy died in the House last session.

State Rep. Guy Vander Linden (R - Oskaloosa) says this proposal didn't make it to Branstad's desk because of "political reality."

"The bill that we ended up with, which would've teamed up with Minnesota, was the best we could do last year," Vander Linden said.

The House proposal would've allowed Iowans to drive to Minnesota to obtain cannabidiol, but that didn't go through either.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer provided a written statement on the partnership, saying "this approach could provide a mutually-beneficial opportunity to ease some of the challenges Minnesota is seeing with their program while also increasing access to sick Iowans."

Vander Linden says he wishes this bill would've passed.

"I'm very disappointed that we were unable to get that done," he said. "If we can get to a point where we can manufacture and distribute medical marijuana in Iowa, I will support that, but the political realities last year were that we did as well as we possibly could do."

Governor Terry Branstad says he'll keep an open mind and is willing to explore expansion of the 2014 law.

"We don't want people to lose something they think will be helpful, or that has been helpful to members of their family," Branstad told reporters Monday. "So I intend to work with the legislature as well as the Office of Drug Control Policy as we look at what is the appropriate thing to do."

Branstad says he remains opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

"I've always said, I have an open mind at looking at what is the best and most effective way to deal with it and to do it in a way that's not going to open up the possibility of abuse," Branstad said.

Gaer emphasizes that's not what "Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis" is pushing for either and wants legislators who oppose medical marijuana to do their own research.

"It's absolutely a human issue when you're fighting for people's lives and to make their lives better," she said. "It's not about getting high. It's not about feeling good. It's about easing pain and suffering."

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