Iowa lawmakers hear emotional pro-marijuana pleas

Bipartisan group of senators introduce resolution for study on feasibility of legalizing medical marijuana

Mike Wiser
Published: March 24 2014 | 2:12 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:06 am in

DES MOINES — Don Karr knocked his fist against a wood podium as his eyes welled up.

“For him,” his voice cracked. “You gotta do this.”

"Him" is Jim Hamer, who, like Karr, was a Vietnam veteran who fought post-traumatic stress disorder for years. Unlike Karr, a marijuana legalization advocate and former member of the Cedar Rapids City Council, Hamer’s last suicide attempt was successful.

Karr was one of three people — all pushing for the legalization of marijuana — who Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, invited to the Statehouse on Monday for what turned out to be a highly emotional news conference.

Karr told spoke about the crippling anxiety of PTSD, his eight suicide attempts and how using marijuana was the only way he found that could calm him.

Rachael Selmeski, a former Waterloo resident who moved her family to Colorado to obtain medical marijuana treatments for her daughter’s epilepsy, also broke down while talking about her daughter’s seizures and the parents in similar circumstances who can’t get treatment “because they’re in the state of Iowa.”

Colorado and Washington are two states that allow marijuana for recreational use as well as medical use. Eighteen other states and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of marijuana.

Iraq war veteran Logan Edwards of Davenport said he was moving to Colorado when he finishes this school term so he could obtain marijuana legally to help him cope with PSTD.

“I’m moving to Colorado for treatment,” he said. “Here, it’s $450 an ounce. In Colorado, it’s $100 an ounce. In Colorado, I can pick the strain (of plant) … it’s not just a random bag of who-knows-what.”

Bolkcom has spearheaded legalization efforts at the Legislature, but his work has not resulted in votes in either chamber. Still, he said, there was progress.

“I think there was hesitation to move forward this session because it’s an election year and everybody’s in defensive mode,” Bolkcom said. “I think the people in this room are going to want to try and make this an issue candidates are going to have to have an opinion on in the fall elections.”

Last week, a bipartisan group of senators — five Republicans and five Democrats — introduced a resolution seeking a legislative interim study on the feasibility of legalizing medical marijuana in Iowa. Over the weekend, outgoing Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker wrote an opinion page piece calling for the Republican Party to embrace legalization.

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