Pubdate: Mon, 28 Apr 2014
Source: Des Moines Register (IA)
Copyright: 2014 The Des Moines Register


Less than a year ago anyone proposing to legalize marijuana for any
purpose would have been laughed out of the Iowa Legislature. In fact,
when Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, introduced a bill in February to
allow Iowans with cancer, spinal cord injuries and other medical
conditions to obtain medical marijuana, he declared it dead the same
day. He cited opposition from Republicans and others.

But the Iowa Legislature has come a long way since then. Elected
officials have worked through numerous versions of legislation,
reached across party lines and -- most important -- listened to
constituents, including Maria La France and Sally Gaer.

The children of these two women "suffer from uncontrolled epileptic
seizures that since infancy have destroyed their quality of life,"
they wrote on The Des Moines Register Opinion pages earlier this
month. Those seizures can cause an interruption of brain function,
lack of oxygen, loss of consciousness, physical injury and even death.

They have been among the parents imploring the Legislature to allow
their children legal access to an extract of marijuana that could
provide some relief.

In the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers appear poised
to decriminalize a form of cannabis that relieves symptoms for
epileptic children. Senate File 2360 was approved 36-12 in the Iowa
Senate last week. The Iowa House should pass the legislation and Gov.
Terry Branstad should sign it into law.

The bill creates a licensing system for patients with "intractable"
epilepsy and their caregivers to pursue treatment with an oil derived
from marijuana that has been shown to reduce seizures and improve
other symptoms related to the illness. Patients or caregivers who
receive a neurologist's recommendation would be able to apply for a
state-issued identification card allowing them to possess the oil
without fear of prosecution under state marijuana laws.

The legislation does not "legalize marijuana." The extracted substance
is not smokeable and contains low amounts of THC, the substance that
gets users high. The bill does not allow for the cultivation,
production or sale of the oil. Patients and caregivers will have to
obtain it in other states with less restrictive medical marijuana regimes.

Though not perfect, the legislation is a good start. It eliminates the
fear of prosecution Iowans feel in their desperate attempt to
alleviate the suffering of a loved one. It shows Iowa is a state where
leaders will set aside stereotypes and politics to give sick people
access to something that may improve their quality of life.

Lobbyists representing law enforcement and physicians have registered
opposition to the legislation. A representative for Blank Children's
Hospital told lawmakers the cannabis oil is not approved by the
federal government for treatment of epilepsy and long-term side
effects are not known. Several Republican lawmakers fear legalizing
any form of marijuana could send the wrong message to young people
about drug use.

But this legislation is not going to open the floodgates for drug use
in Iowa. And the only message it sends is one of compassion: Iowa
understands the pain and suffering that accompanies some illnesses. We
understand the strain it puts on entire families. No one should have
to break the law or move to another state to help a sick loved one.
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MAP posted-by: Matt