Even with new medical cannabis law, advocates still frustrated

Iowa state capitol (Caroline Cummings).

Last legislative session, Iowa lawmakers passed a bill that set the stage for medical marijuana production and distribution throughout the state and added to the list of illnesses that would make patients qualify for a perscription.

Much to her dismay, Grimes resident Katie Krug's condition didn't make the cut.

"I felt like my disease wasn't good enough," Krug said.

Krug suffers from Ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that is similar to Crohn's disease, a condition that did make its way into the legislation.

"Crohn's is on the list but Ulcerative Colitis is not and they really are cousin diseases," Krug said.

Krug first got diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2010 and since then she's tried a variety of treatment options and medications to no avail. After doing research, she discovered others with her condition found success with medical marijuana so she began advocating at the state capitol about three years ago, she said, to fight to expand cannabis oil to more Iowans with more illnesses, like hers.

An effort passed by the Iowa Senate, SF 506, included Ulcerative colitis in addition to Crohn's, but that bill ultimately died in a subcommittee. In a last-minute effort, the House put forth the legislation that Governor Terry Branstad then signed into law.

Ulcerative Colitis didn't make the cut.

"It made me feel really frustrated that I had spent so much time and energy advocating [to pass legislation,]" Krug said—legislation that would eventually omit her condition, leaving Krug with virtually no options left before an extensive surgery.

Every eight weeks, she gets an infusion of medication that's a "chemotherapy type of drug," which Krug said is powerful and leaves her with "tremendous" side effects like fatigue and dehydration, all taking a toll on her as a working mother with young children. With medical cannabis, Krug said, she wouldn't have to go through this procedure.

"I'm already fighting this disease that I'm going to have for the rest of my life and then having to fight for a medication that I know would help me and have fewer side effects, it's just incredibly frustrating," she said. "How hard do I have to fight to get the medication I need?"

Krug and other medical marijuana advocates also took issue with another provision of the bill that would limit tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, levels in cannabis oil to three percent, an amount they say is too low and restrictive for some conditions. Krug also noted that different diseases need different percentages of THC in order to truly be effective.

"When you get into treating disease with any sort of inflammation in the body, like M.S., Parkinson's, Crohn's or Ulcerative colitis, you need a much higher level of THC," Krug said.

Governor Reynolds appointed a Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board within the Department of Health consisting of a variety of doctors and medical professionals that will take a look at the law and oversee the program. It has the ability to up the THC levels and expand the list of conditions to include more. Krug hopes that the board will add Ulcerative colitis.

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