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DES MOINES | The Iowa Senate on Thursday approved a narrow opening for Iowa parents with children suffering from severe epilepsy to be able to access cannabis oil as a treatment option. The issue has been a source of debate for weeks. 

“We’re opening a gate here and we need to come to grips with that,” said state Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, a father of three who struggled with the issue and wondered if lawmakers next session would asked to expand access to people dealing with cancer of other painful, chronic conditions.

Senators voted 36-12 to pass the bill that legalizes the possession and medical use of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. Backers say it possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits for people who has seizures. Ten Republicans joined 26 Democrats in passing the bill.

“The oil that we are talking about does not produce a high,” said Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines. “The bill we put together will not open the door for recreational use.”

The measure would require patients or caregivers to obtain a state-issued registration card to possess the drug and to have a neurologist’s recommendation to obtain the license. 

Some expressed concern over the lack of FDA approval and a philosophical shift in handling marijuana in Iowa. 

“We are sending a message whether we like it or not that marijuana is OK,” said Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan. “It is a gateway drug and I hope the young people understand that.”

Primary caregivers -- including parents, hospice employees and community-based health care service providers -- also are authorized to possess and administer the use of cannabidiol on behalf of a patient, including those under 18 years of age.

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, expressed concern that marijuana and its derivatives are illegal under federal drug policy and, even though Iowa is granting immunity, parents seeking the cannabis oil would have to cross through states where cannabidiol is not legal and face arrest on federal charges.

“I think we’re giving a false sense of security to these folks,” she said.

The legislation now goes to the Iowa House for consideration.

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