DES MOINES | Iowa Rep. Clel Baudler has gone from being on the Marijuana Policy Project’s list of worst legislators last year to backing the legalization of a marijuana derivative for treatment of seizure disorders.
“It’s time,” the Greenfield Republican and former Iowa State Patrol trooper said Wednesday afternoon after meeting with representatives of the Iowa Epilepsy Foundation.
The foundation has been lobbying lawmakers this session, often coming to the Capitol with their children who have seizure disorders.
“As a mother of a special needs child, you have to be optimistic,” said Maria La France of Des Moines, whose 12-year-old son is epileptic. She’s spent much of the year at the Statehouse lobbying lawmakers. “I naively believed that once it was explained and people understood the benefits, minds could be changed.”
Baudler has done his own research, but he doesn’t discount the impact of La France and other mothers of special needs children – and those children.
“These little kids are taking some drugs that are really hot,” Baudler said. “So if we educate ourselves and possibly we can give them some relief, that’s a good thing.”
Make no mistake, Baudler isn’t about to let Iowa become Colorado, where marijuana is legal for recreational use. In fact, he doesn’t use the terms marijuana or medical marijuana.
“Cannabidiol,” he said, referring to a compound in cannabis that has little THC, which makes marijuana users feel high, but greater amounts of the chemical CBD, which has medical effects.
Baudler admits it’s quite a transformation from where he was a year ago when, as chairman of the Public Safety Committee, he held a hearing – on a dare – to slam the door on efforts to legalize marijuana.
What’s changed, he said, is that he hadn’t heard of cannabidiol a year ago.
Several lawmakers are making similar transformations, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said Wednesday, after meeting with the Epilepsy Foundation.
“The proposal is thoughtful, and these families’ stories have clearly grabbed the attention of lawmakers,” he said.
Not all lawmakers are at the same point as Baudler, but Paulsen thinks there is a possibility the Legislature could legalize cannabidiol before adjourning this month.
The fact that Baudler is on board makes that possible, according to Dale Todd of Cedar Rapids, legislative chairman of the Iowa Epilepsy Foundation and father of a 14-year-old boy with epilepsy.
“No doubt Clel, with his background in law enforcement, was the key to movement on the House Republican side,” Todd said, “as well as the fact he’s a respected politician who, I believe, is there to do the right thing.”
“He’s probably the most significant player next to the governor in this discussion,” Todd added.
Gov. Terry Branstad, who previously opposed legalizing medical marijuana, said earlier this week that “it looks like we could end up with something that’s very limited in focus” this session.
“I believe it’s at a tipping point,” Todd said.
It’s not a done deal, however. So Todd and La France will continue to talk about the science of medical marijuana, the side effects of the drugs their children now take and the benefits of cannabidiol.
“We’ll keep telling our story and having hope,” said La France, who grew up in Cedar Rapids.
Baudler will insist on legislation crafted “so narrowly that it is impossible to interpret as marijuana or medical marijuana.”
Paulsen agreed that to win approval there can be no room for recreational use – “Nothing in combustible form.”
It’s the sort of legislation that all parties will have to agree to before it gets to the floor of the House or the Senate, where Paulsen expects it to start.
“It’s not the kind of bill you slog through 50 amendments on the floor,” he said.
“I’m going to say it better be unamendable,” said Baudler, warning against any attempt to expand cannabidiol use to sufferers of PTSD, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain or other conditions for which claims are made that it offers relief.
It’s not that he’s totally unsympathetic to people who suffer those conditions.
“Move to Colorado,” he said.