A committee in the Iowa House has voted to legalize the limited growth of marijuana in Iowa for distribution as medicine to treat three conditions: epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and end-stage cancer. It’s a scaled back version of legislation that was considered in the Iowa Senate last year.
Republican Representative Zach Nunn of Bondurant urged his colleagues to “keep an open mind” about the changes. “I’ve been incredibly impressed by both Democrats and Republicans for being able to bring this issue forward,” Nunn said, “…to be able to focus it in a way that can be both meaningful and impactful and face the reality of being able to move it forward in both chambers.”
The bill passed the House Commerce Committee by a wide, bipartisan margin. The vote was 17 in favor and six opposed and it’s now eligible for debate in the 100-member House, although the speaker of the House has indicated the state should let federal officials decide the issue first.
Over the noon-hour today a statehouse committee room was packed with Iowans who are advocates of medical marijuana. Representative Guy Vander Linden, a Republican from Pella, spoke to the crowd at the end of the hour.
“It’s very touching to hear some of the things that folks are living with,” Vander Linden said.
Forty-nine-year-old Tina Austin of Altoona suffers from ulcerative colitis and has run out of treatment options.
“This is my last choice, so let my doctor and I decide,” Austin said, choking back tears.
Bob Lewis of Windsor Heights had brain surgery when he was 21 years old and has suffered from chronic pain for the past 42 years.
“There are a lot of us out there with intractable pain that could sure use the help now,” he said. “And we’d have a better life if we were able to have it.”
John Lindley of Knoxville is an Army veteran who spent 21 months in Iraq and Afghanistan. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and has post traumatic stress disorder.
“I was fortunate to move to Washington, D.C. last fall where I was able to legally use cannabis for the first time to treat my PTSD,” Lindley said. “For the first time in years, I was able to get a restful night’s sleep without being woken up by nightmares.”
Pat Lawfler of Cedar Rapids has epilepsy and the prescription medication he’s taking is causing six side effects.
“I want to crawl out of my skin right now because of these man-made medications,” Lawfler said.
Dr. David Drake, a psychiatrist in Des Moines, said in 23 other states and the District of Columbia doctors can discuss cannabis with patients and prescribe it.
“As a doctor, it’s my role to help patients heal and move on with their lives and use the treatments that are best for them,” Drake said. “I’d like medical cannabis to be an option for patients in Iowa.”
Peter Komendowki, president of the Partnership for a Drug-free Iowa, and a woman who did not identify herself were the only two people to speak against the proposal during the hour-long hearing. Komendowski said young people in Iowa will be confused about the harmful effects of marijuana if it’s legalized for medical use.
“If Iowa youth follow the actions of youth in other states with medical marijuana programs,” he said, “we’ll see an increase in youth marijuana use.”
Representative John Forbes, a Democrat from Urbandale who is a pharmacist, countered by citing a study published in a medical journal last June showing medical marijuana “is not a gateway to more illegal use.”
“It looked at 18 states that have implemented a medical cannabis program in their states and they looked at children…in grades 6 through 12 and statistically saw no change in marijuana use,” Forbes said.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake who is a nurse practitioner, has said the state should wait until the federal Food and Drug Administration approves marijuana as treatment for medical conditions.
Maria La France of Des Moines is among a group of mothers who successfully got legislators to decriminalize the possession of cannabis oil as treatment for children with chronic epilepsy in 2014. She said today that Upmeyer is offering “lame excuses.”
“Wait for the FDA? These people are dying,” La France said. “We do not have time for the FDA.”
Last year a bill introduced in the Iowa Senate would have allowed marijuana to be grown, processed and sold in Iowa as treatment for a wide range of medical conditions that cause severe pain, nausea and seizures.