Pubdate: Tue, 01 Mar 2016
Source: Des Moines Register (IA)
Copyright: 2016 The Des Moines Register
Authors: Brianne Pfannenstiel and Joel Aschbrenner


Some of Iowa's most influential business leaders are urging state 
legislators to pass a bill that would expand the state's medical cannabis laws.

"Now is the time to help suffering Iowans and their families get 
legal access to this medicine, and we hereby call on Iowa lawmakers 
to debate and pass Comprehensive Medical Cannabis legislation this 
session," a letter signed by more than 90 business leaders and sent 
to lawmakers reads.

Meredith Corp. CEO Steve Lacy, Principal Financial Group CEO Dan 
Houston, Bankers Trust CEO Suku Radia, Knapp Properties CEO Gerry 
Neugent, local real estate developer Bill Knapp and BelinMcCormick 
attorney Steve Zumbach are among the influential names attached to it.

The full list of signers includes seven of the Business Record's top 
10 most influential Des Moines business leaders of 2016 and spans 
several industries from banking and insurance to publishing and real estate.

The legislation, House File 2384, would grant the state the authority 
to establish two growing facilities and distribute medical cannabis 
oil to individuals who suffer from intractable epilepsy, multiple 
sclerosis and cancer.

It is legal for Iowans with epilepsy to use cannabis oil following 
passage of a law in 2014. However, cannabis oil proponents argue that 
change was useless in practice because of a separate state law that 
makes it illegal to manufacture or distribute that oil in Iowa. 
Federal law also prohibits cannabis oil's transportation across state 
lines, making it illegal for Iowans to obtain the product.

HF 2384 was introduced by Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, who 
said he brought the issue forward after hearing stories like those 
from West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer and his wife, Sally, who have a 
daughter with epilepsy. The Gaers have obtained cannabis oil for 
their daughter and say it's made a dramatic improvement.

"For me personally, I'll be very disappointed for this legislative 
session if we don't get this bill passed into law," Cownie said. 
"From people coming up to me on the street with how supportive they 
are, around town, around my district, I think Iowans are ready for the change."

Cownie's father, Jim, also signed the letter. The Cownie connection 
and Gaer's involvement may help explain the groundswell of support 
from business leaders.

Jim Cownie, a powerful telecommunications and real estate 
businessman, is known for brokering deals and leading fundraising 
campaigns. He is currently leading the effort to wrangle $8 million 
to finish a stalled downtown YMCA aquatic center.

As mayor of West Des Moines and a real estate attorney, Gaer also has 
deep ties with the local business community.

The chief organizer behind the effort to coalesce business support, 
according to several local business leaders, was George Milligan, 
president of local construction firm The Graham Group.

Milligan said he personally knows the Gaers and several other 
families that have struggled with epilepsy or other conditions they 
hope to treat with cannabis oil.

It took about 10 days for Milligan to gather the list of supporters. 
It was surprising, he said, how well-versed business leaders were on 
the issue and how many wanted to back the bill.

"I think it's just an indication of the quiet support for this issue 
and this bill," he said.

Neugent, CEO of Knapp Properties, also knows the Gaers personally and 
said he has seen their daughter's condition improve thanks to the 
cannabis oil. Neugent called the bill "good humanity" and said 
families should have legal access to the substance.

"To make people like that move out of the state or have to act 
contrary to the law to help their children who suffer from seizures 
or these other conditions just seems crazy to me," he said.

Neugent acknowledged it is unusual to see so many business leaders - 
including many conservatives - line up behind a bill related to 
marijuana. But it was easy for supporters to understand the bill only 
provides access to a nonhallucinogenic substance already legal in the 
state, he said.

An earlier version of HF 2384 would have given individuals with a far 
broader range of illnesses access to the oil, but lawmakers said they 
didn't think they could garner the support necessary to pass it.

The bill has cleared the House Commerce Committee and is headed to 
the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Tom Sands, a Republican from Wapello and chairman of that body, said 
he has yet to decide whether the committee will vote on it. He said 
he is working to gather more information.

"I try really hard to base my decisions on facts and research, and I 
want to make sure we do what's in the best interests of Iowans," he 
said. "You wouldn't see too many science or medical degrees out there 
in that chamber, so you've got to be really careful, I think."

Rep. Cownie said he believes the bill would pass if it were put to a 
vote on the floor of the House. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear 
Lake, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. Upmeyer 
previously has said she believes the Food and Drug Administration is 
the final arbiter of what is a medication.

Ben Hammes, spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said the governor 
prefers not to speculate on pending legislation.

"We will monitor proposed updates to medical cannabis in Iowa but 
will reserve judgment until he sees something in its final form," he 
said in a statement.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom