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Iowans push for expanded medical cannabis options

Advocates tell candidates "disease isn't partisan"

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DES MOINES — Sick and suffering Iowans came to the Iowa Capitol building Tuesday to urge voters to research legislative candidates’ position on expanding access to medical cannabis that they and their children need before casting their ballots in the 2016 election.

“Disease isn’t partisan,” said West Des Moines resident Sally Gaer, whose daughter has been taking cannabidiol for 19 months but wants more access than what is provided under Iowa’s limited 2014 law.

Gaer, co-founder of the advocacy group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis gathered at the Statehouse to urge Iowa voters to press political candidates at the state and federal levels to support legalizing marijuana-derived cannabis for broad medical use.

“We are asking voters to ask their candidate what they will do to help suffering Iowans who need access to this treatment option in Iowa, produced, tested and dispensed by Iowans, for Iowans,” Gaer said.

Current Iowa law -- signed two years ago by Gov. Terry Branstad and set to expire July 1, 2017 -- allows Iowa residents to possess and use up to 32 ounces of cannabidiol, a derivative of the marijuana plant, for the sole purpose of treating intractable epilepsy and its side effects.

Iowans under a physician’s care who acquired an approved cannabidiol registration card must obtain the product from other states that produce cannabidiol. But few sell to out-of-state residents, which advocates say makes Iowa’s law unworkable.

A bill passed by the Iowa Senate last year that failed to win support in the Iowa House would have established a comprehensive medical cannabis program for Iowans seeking relief from debilitating diseases and conditions.

Proponents say the measure contained safeguards to keep it from ushering in legalized use of marijuana for recreational purposes. It also would have authorized the production and dispensing of medical cannibas for expanded uses and medical conditions.

Branstad has said he would be open to expanding Iowa medical cannabis law similar to 25 other states but he is concerned about unintended consequences that might open up marijuana to recreational uses.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Moose Warywoda of Des Moines debunked the notion or recreational uses, saying the low-dose cannabidiol his daughter takes for genetic abnormality is helping her.

“It’s medicine. It’s not recreational,” Warywoda said. “It’s not weed. It’s not marijuana. It won’t get you high. Our politicians need to understand that.

“Our politicians are failing us. They aren’t helping us out. They don’t care about families because families are suffering,” he added, noting he and his wife are tired of worrying they will get arrested for possessing a controlled substance that is aiding their daughter who will be 2 years old in February.

Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis plans to post a list on the I4MC.org web site showing which incumbent legislators have supported providing access to medical marijuana in Iowa.

“It is time to do the right thing,” said Karrie Anderson of Grimes. “Iowa needs a comprehensive medical cannabis program. We are a great state that can, and should, do great things for our suffering citizens. Let’s take the best parts of the existing programs in neighboring states and create a program that is even better. Let’s do it now. We are not going to give up.”

Rep. Ralph Watts, R-Adel, was among the people who attended Tuesday’s event. He said he wanted to hear what the Iowans had to say but he was noncommittal about their proposals. “We’ll see. I’ve been around long enough to say at this point, show me the bill,” he said.

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