October 30, 2014

Interim call to legalize medical marijuana just for epileptics

A parent who’s been urging Iowa lawmakers to legalize marijuana for medical use says Iowa should at least allow epileptics to get a liquified version of the drug. Republican Steve Gaer, the mayor of West Des Moines, says the oil is produced from a strain of marijuana called “Charlotte’s Web”.

“It’s so low in THC that you can’t get high on it. They’ve recognized that it’s very helpful for these folks. It’s not addictive. It can’t be abused,” Gaer says. “…We would like to see this interim legislation passed like’s being passed in one state and proposed in six others.”

Gaer’s 24-year-old daughter, Margaret, has a rare form of epilepsy. Her violent seizures can occur several times and day and sometimes last as long as 25 minutes.

“If you go to another state with medical marijuana and put your children on it, it’s illegal to bring them back to the state,” Gaer says. “I had a conversation with the governor’s attorney and she said, ‘Steve, I wouldn’t recommend that. They could take your house,’ and so by not allowing us to have access to this, it puts us in a position of either we can’t try to get the help we need for our kids or we have to leave the communities that we’ve all grow up in — our families, our friends, our churches.”

State Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, is one of 10 senators — five Democrats and five Republicans — who’ve signed a resolution calling for a group of legislators to intensely study the issue this summer and fall.

“I think there’s a path forward here in Iowa where we could develop safe, legal access in a restricted way and carve out this legal space where people are not going to lose their homes or face prison time or have a big legal bill because they get arrested for basically trying to improve their quality of life, by treating their conditions with a doctor’s order with cannabis,” Bolkcom says.

Governor Terry Branstad, though, has said the state should not draft laws like one that would legalize medical marijuana “just for a few people with a particular…ailment.”  Steve Lukan, director of the Governor’s Office on Drug Control Policy, says there are too many unanswered questions about cannabis as a treatment for medical problems, especially post traumatic stress disorder.

“There’s been no long term studies. We don’t know the long term side effects,” Lukan says. “The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have expressed some reservations. There is research that says people who use these drugs may actually develop things like schizophrenia. We don’t know how these drugs will interact with other medications.”

Lukan, Bolkcom and Gaer made their comments today during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight on Iowa Public Television. On Monday, three Iowans who have either used medical marijuana in another state or who have a family member who is doing so now will be at the statehouse to urge lawmakers to legalize marijuana for medical use in Iowa.