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From the beginning of this discussion, we have supported a medical marijuana program for Iowa. Simply put, we have compassion for Iowans who seek relief through cannabidiol for medical conditions from which they suffer.

To this end, we commend leaders for putting the state in position this weekend to reach a new milestone in the evolution of medical marijuana in Iowa.

On Saturday, five medical cannabis dispensaries opened across the state - in Sioux City, Davenport, Waterloo, Council Bluffs and the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights. As a result, Iowans certified by a physician to suffer from an approved condition can buy cannabidiol in the state where they live for the first time.

Room for improvement in the state program exists, but Iowa today is, without question, a significantly better place in terms of medical cannabis treatment than it was four years ago.

In 2014, the Legislature took an important first step on the issue of medical marijuana. Lawmakers passed a bill through which patients afflicted by epilepsy could possess an anti-seizure medicine derived from cannabis. At the time, we supported the bill and stated our support for future debate about extending Iowa's medical marijuana program to illnesses other than epilepsy. Later, we encouraged lawmakers to legalize production and distribution of cannabidiol in Iowa to address a shortcoming in the original bill.

A bill passed by the Legislature in 2017, which we supported, addressed expansion as well as production and distribution.

The 2017 bill:

- Allowed for the production of cannabis oil at two locations.

- Legalized the use of cannabis oil for additional conditions. In addition to seizures from epilepsy, the conditions covered in the expanded medical marijuana program include: cancer; multiple sclerosis; HIV or AIDS; Crohn's disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Parkinson's disease; and any terminal illness with a life expectancy of under a year.

- Created an advisory board to review medical evidence and make recommendations to the state's Board of Medicine on what illnesses should be added to the list of conditions and whether a tetrahydrocannabinol level of more than 3 percent should be allowed for certain conditions. The bill limits the amount of THC allowed in cannabis oil to 3 percent, which critics say limits the oil's potential to help individuals who suffer from conditions other than epilepsy seizures.

Moving forward, we urge the state to study opportunities for possible improvements to Iowa's medical marijuana program. Iowa should at least study the following: 1) Further expansion of approved illnesses. 2) Expansion in the number of dispensaries. 3) An increase in the THC cap.

Insofar as medical cannabis is concerned, continued pursuit of accessibility to effective relief for afflicted Iowans is the right strategy for this state.

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