Advocate in Cedar Rapids pushes expansion of Iowa's medical cannabis program

'We have to advocate for people who are too sick to advocate for themselves'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Maria La France, a driving force behind the state’s medical cannabidiol act that passed last year, is ready to expand the law.

“It’s a symbolic law,” said La France of Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis, which advocates for safe and regulated access to medical cannabis. “This year we need to fix it.”

She spoke last night at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. During her hourlong presentation, she touched on a long list of medical conditions that studies have shown medical cannabis to help, including PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and certain cancers.

La France also gave an overview of how different state-run programs work, pointing out that 23 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical cannabis use. In addition, Minnesota recently passed a bill while bills have been introduced in Kansas and Nebraska, she added.

“It’s happening all around us,” she said.

It’s important to expand the law she said, because it is “too narrow and restrictive.”

The law allows Iowans suffering from chronic epilepsy to treat their conditions legally with medical cannabis oil. Just this week, the Iowa Department of Public Health made available an application to register for a cannabidiol card.

But even with the card, La France said, they are unable to affordably or legally get medical cannabis in other states. And it also excludes other illnesses that studies have shown it can help.

“I don’t want to just use marijuana to get high, I want it to lessen PTSD symptoms,” said John Custis, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Anamosa.

Custis, who gave a testimonial during the event, said he spent his first day in Vietnam picking up bodies and body parts.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” he said. “I came home, but life was not the same.”

After years of self-medicating with alcohol and being afraid to go to sleep, he said he wants to be able to use medical cannabis safely and legally.

“I’m not a criminal,” he said. “I spent most of life working in corrections.”

A Senate bill with bipartisan support has been written and could be heard as early as next week, she said. However, it faces tough odds of passing in the House.

That’s why it’s important for Iowans to contact lawmakers, she said, to educate and advocate. “We need to channel our anger — talk to your legislator, your neighbors,” she said. “We have to advocate for people who are too sick to advocate for themselves.”

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