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Medical marijuana Iowa

Kim Novy, an Altoona mother of twin daughters with intractable epilepsy, addresses a Statehouse news conference on Tuesday. Backers called for reform legislation to allow more Iowans who suffer from specific chronic diseases to be able to purchase -- under a doctor's supervision -- medical cannabis products produced in Iowa from state-licensed dispensaries.

Rod Boshart, Sioux City Journal

DES MOINES | Iowans suffering from chronic diseases joined state lawmakers Tuesday in calling for expanded access under a doctor's supervision to medical cannabis that is manufactured in private dispensaries licensed by the state to operate in Iowa.

"We are asking our state legislators and our governor to work together this legislative session to help our families obtain access in Iowa to this medication in a well-controlled, safe and affordable way," said Kim Novy, an Altoona mother of twin daughters who suffer from intractable epilepsy.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said the split-control Legislature took a first step last year in approving Iowa's first medical cannabis program. But unfortunately the approach was so tightly regulated to avoid unintended consequences that eligible participants have been unable to obtain cannabis oil from other states and transport it to Iowa as envisioned.

Senate Study Bill 1243, which is exempt from this week's legislative "funnel" because it contains a fee provision, would expand to eight the conditions eligible for medicines made from cannabis and establish a process for them to become eligible - with physician certification -- to purchase medical marijuana products from dispensaries licensed by the state. The expanded medical conditions included cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, AIDS/HIV, glaucoma, Hepatitis C, Crohn's Disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and post traumatic stress disorder.

The cannabis would be grown in Iowa by up to four private medical cannabis manufacturers under the oversight of a newly created Medical Advisory Board of healthcare professions who also would be able to determine whether additional medical conditions should be eligible for medical cannabis  The bill establishes a manufacturer license application fee of $7,500 that authorizes the holder to charge fees to a patient/caregiver to dispense medical marijuana.

"This bill is not about legalizing recreational use," said Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, a Marshall County deputy sheriff and supporter of the bill that backers hope will garner bipartisan support.

"Like other medically useful drugs which can be abused, cannabis provides important, unique and scientifically proven medical benefits to people with severe illnesses," Sodders said. "This legislation creates a secure, controlled way to provide medical cannabis to Iowans who need it. This proposal is a responsible and compassionate way to help ease pain and suffering and even extend lives."

After emotional appeals from Iowa parents with children suffering from severe epilepsy, the Legislature passed and Gov. Terry Branstad signed legislation that legalizee the possession and medical use under certain conditions of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that backers say possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits.

The measure gave prosecutorial immunity to people who possess cannabidiol, a non-smokable oil extract of marijuana with a low THC level to treat seizures. Patients or their caregivers are required to obtain a state-issued registration card to possess the drug and to have a neurologist's recommendation to obtain the license. The act is repealed July 1, 2017.

During Tuesday's news conference, Jon Custis, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, said he favored making cannabis available to soldiers dealing with terrible side effects of war. He said a New Mexico study showed a 75 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms using cannabis.

"Decriminalizing marijuana, passing a medical cannabis bill or rescheduling it won't fix everything but it might just save some of these heroes -- our heroes," Custis said. "It is the right thing to do and this is the right time to do it."

Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, who was a key legislator in last session's bipartisan success, said SSB1243 faces "an uphill battle" because Republicans who control the Iowa House say they want to give the current law time to work and want to see more research evidence of cannabis oil's medical benefits.

"The fact that it opens it up to more conditions may scare some people away from it or may be a step further than most people want to go," Schneider said.

Dotzler said 23 other states have similar programs.

"Iowans deserve to have full access to the same medicines already available to the majority of all Americans," he said.

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