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Legalizing Marijuana

Plants used to grow medical marijuana are displayed at a medical marijuana cooperative in Seattle on Oct. 16. 

Ted S. Warren, Associated Press file

DES MOINES | A legislative panel on Thursday recommended that lawmakers create a program to produce and dispense medical marijuana, a move that would address shortcomings of a new law that allows the use of cannabis oil. The group also supports reclassifying marijuana so it can be used for medical reasons.

The 10-member Cannabidiol Implementation Study Committee was formed after lawmakers in May approved allowing epilepsy patients to get cannabis oil. Patients or their caregivers need permission from a doctor.

The law did not outline out the oil would be produced or distributed. The bipartisan panel is charged with establishing rules and a photo identification system showing people have permission to have the oil. The card would exempt them from state prosecution.

The oil is used to treat seizures.

Patients or their caregivers will have to travel to other states to get the oil. Some testified to the committee Thursday that there are obstacles to access, quality and affordable.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who co-chaired the panel, said Iowa's law "needs some more tinkering to make sure that the families that hope to benefit their suffering children actually get the benefit."

Steve Lukan, director of the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy, said there are other issues like perceived risk, the effect of marijuana on developing brains and other considerations tied to a medical marijuana expansion that require a "very cautious" and responsible approach.

The panel recommended that lawmakers next session create a program so Iowans can access the oil in the state. 

They also voted to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug, which would allow it to be used for medical purposes. Members voted against a proposal to allow people with cancer and other medical issues use of the drug.

Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, one of the architects of the new law, sounded a note of caution Thursday, said they needed more input in how best to address the deficiencies before expanding what's currently in place.

"I'm really just focused on the bill that we passed, not any kind of broader expansion of what we're doing," he said.

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