VIDEO: House bill aims to expand medical marijuana access

Eleven-year cancer survivor Tom Duncan is hoping lawmakers this year will finally do what he and other medical marijuana advocates are asking for -- expand access.

"I think they're on the way," Duncan said.

Duncan says expanded access would help him tremendously with the side effects from his current chemotherapy treatments.

"There's a potential it could help me fight my cancer if we get the right formulations of cannabinoids," he said.

State Rep. Clel Baudler, R - Greenfield, has filed a bill in the House that aims at allowing Iowans licensed by the Iowa Department of Public Health to grow cannabis, produce and dispense cannabis oil to treat chronic epilepsy. The bill would also establish a tracking system over transportation and delivery from the cannabis grower through the dispensing of the oil.

The current law, ending this July, allows for Iowans to have the cannabis oil to treat epilepsy. But since there's no way to process and dispense it in the state, Iowans have had to buy it from out-of-state. Critics have said the current medical cannabidiol program still isn't legal under federal law because they have to get it across state lines.

Some users of the current program say they've seen benefits. Erin Miller, who has a son with UBE2A Deficiency Syndrome, says since her son started using cannabis oil, he's now 600 days seizure free and has been able to ween off the use of pharmaceuticals.

Baudler said it's crucial the state act on the issue with only a few months left before the sunset of the current law.

"You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube," Baudler said. "It won't work."

He said that's why he decided to craft this bill and it's something that makes Duncan optimistic about the conversations to come.

"(Baudler's) heart is in the right place," Duncan said.

A bill that failed to pass in the Iowa Legislature last year would've allowed Iowans to produce and dispense cannabis oil and covered more conditions than just epilepsy.

Baudler's bill, House Study Bill 132, also requires the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine to submit a report regarding studies and clinical trials regarding the medical use of cannabidiol to the Iowa Department of Public Health and lawmakers and would have to recommend which new medical conditions, in addition to epilepsy, would allow a person to use the drug.

Baudler says lawmakers would have to review, then pass a law within a year over the recommended medical conditions from the college.

He said without doctors or scientists in the House and Senate, this bill allows the decisions to be left up to science.

"If you go to a doctor college, the first thing they tell you is 'do no harm,'" Baudler said.

Democratic State Rep. John Forbes, D - Urbandale, says Baudler's bill is "a pretty good bill," but could lead to slower access to the patients.

"I personally think we should set up a board or commission of healthcare professionals - doctors, nurses, pharmacists and lay people to be able to look over the different conditions this medication could help and allow them, the experts, to make the decision rather than state legislators," Forbes said.

Forbes said this board or commission would be appointed by the Governor or the Legislature.

Baudler says there are mixed perspectives on the issue.

"I think it runs the gamut from right to left, north to south, absolutely not to full-blown Colorado," he said. "That's a difficult question to answer."

Duncan hopes whatever lawmakers decide, it takes all conditions into account.

"The best case scenario is they make it effective as soon as possible and let doctors immediately recommend it for patients they feel are comfortable with instead of going through all of these medical advisory boards," he said. "We do want safe products for our patients but we can move faster for all conditions."

The bill will be discussed in a House subcommittee meeting Wednesday morning.

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