Iowans deserve the choice of treatment

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 21 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:56 am in

By Sen. Joe Bolkcom

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Thousands of Iowans needlessly are suffering because Iowa laws keep them from using medicine available in other states

Iíve met many of them. They are all ages, from all walks of life, and have all sorts of political and religious beliefs. They ó or their children ó suffer daily from epilepsy, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and other serious conditions.

Medical cannabis could ease their suffering.

Iowa doctors canít prescribe this medicine and it is illegal for Iowans to possess medical cannabis. As a substitute, Iowans instead turn to some of the most powerful and addictive narcotic drugs known to medicine. Those drugs are legal, but often they have extremely negative side-effects and often donít work as well as medical cannabis.

It is cruel to deny someone the medicine they need.

I have heard many stories from Iowans who have left the state or are planning to leave to get the medicine they need. I have talked with two Iraq War veterans ó one has left and another is leaving Iowa soon so he also can legally access the medicine that best manages his PTSD. Another Iowa family has split up their family so their daughterís epilepsy can be treated with medical cannabis in Colorado.

Twenty states already have medical cannabis programs and 14 more are considering legislation. Whatís wrong with Iowa?

In 2010, the Iowa Pharmacy Board concluded that cannabis has medical benefits and that the best way to help patients is to create a program modeled after New Mexicoís respected medical cannabis initiative.

Iíve met with Republican and Democratic legislators in both the House and Senate. We are making progress. It helps that we can learn from the lessons learned from other states.

The legislation (SF 2215) we are working on sets out a strictly controlled program that specifies a set of debilitating conditions, requires a doctorís prescription, and will be administered by a medical doctor at the Iowa Department of Public Health. The state would license non-profit dispensaries and a production facility. The licensing fees would cover the costs.

A majority of Iowans are ready to move forward. The roadblocks are fear and lack of information on the part of the Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad. However, the recent efforts by patients and their families have been extraordinarily effective. The Legislature could approve medical cannabis as early as 2015 in the first legislative session after this fallís election.

Itís great that the ice is cracking in the Iowa House and Senate, but the governor still is in the deep freeze. After years of using the ďwar on drugsĒ to score partisan politics, is he even capable of acknowledging the facts on this issue?

For the sake of Iowans seeking relief from serious medical conditions, I hope so. How much longer are Iowa voters like you and I going to make our friends and neighbors wait for the medicine they need?

Joe Bolkcom is a state senator from Iowa City. Comments: Joe.bolkcom@legis.iowa.gov

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