Medical marijuana bill moves forward

Legislation moves forward after appearing dead earlier in session

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April 23, 2014 | 6:05 pm

DES MOINES — Iowans would be protected from prosecution for possessing a specific type of medical marijuana under legislation that moved through a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.

It’s a remarkable first step for legislation considered “dead” several times this session only to be reworked and re-lobbied as the Legislature went into overtime this week.

The bill gives prosecutorial immunity to people who possess cannabidiol, a low-THC, non-smokable oil extract of marijuana used to treat seizures. Patients, or their caregivers, must obtain a state-issued license to possess the drug and must have a neurologist’s prescription in order to obtain the license.

“This is huge for us,” said Sally Gaer, whose 24-year-old daughter suffers from seizures for which she takes four different anticonvulsant medications, none of which is completely effective.

She’s the wife of Republican West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, whose support for the legislation was seen as key in getting it heard in the Republican caucus. But advocates also benefited from the persistence of a group of parents who made almost daily trips to the Capitol to bend lawmakers’ ears about what was at stake for their families.

Blank Children’s Hospital representative Chaney Yeast said the organization is opposed to the bill because cannabis oil is not approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

“I just want to point out that people who are seeking access are also aware of these risks,” said state Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, “because everything they’ve tired so far hasn’t worked.”

Steve Lukan, who heads the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said the office officially is neutral on the bill but added he had concerns about how the process would work because it requires Iowans to travel to other states in order to obtain the oil and the state has no ability for quality control in those other jurisdictions.

State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said it’s a necessary part of the legislation because it’s illegal to produce the oil in Iowa.

“Without reciprocity, people would have no access,” he said.

The text of the bill can be found here.

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