Iowans plead for expanded medical marijuana program

Families pleaded with lawmakers to make the program more accessible

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DES MOINES — Their testimonies were tearful and frightening, and they pleaded with Iowa lawmakers for help.

A handful of Iowans was invited Monday to speak to state legislators and ask for expansion of Iowa’s new medical marijuana program, which is effectively useless, according to those who say they need it. Brandon Braze of Waverly became emotional as he told lawmakers of his bout with Crohn’s disease, how his treatment has led to repeated hospitalizations, impacted his family and created a significant financial burden

“Having to answer questions from our 2- and 4-year-olds, ‘Why is daddy in the hospital again? When can he come home? Is he going to be OK?’ Not to mention the financial burden of the medications and the hospital bills on my family,” Braze said.

Jon Curtis, a Vietnam veteran from Anamosa, talked about his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he represents young veterans returning from war who are going through the same issues.

“No matter how tired I am, there’s never a night I look forward to going to bed, because I never know what I’m going to see in my sleep,” Curtis said.

Each speaker had the same request: Expand the new law to allow Iowans to legally produce and obtain the medical marijuana oil that can be used to treat their ailments.

The law, passed during last year’s legislative session, allows Iowa residents to obtain a physician’s prescription to treat certain diseases with a medical marijuana derivative. The law does not allow for production of medical marijuana or provide a path for Iowa residents to legally obtain the product in other states and bring it back to Iowa.

Jeri Goodell, of Lake Park, told lawmakers about her 3-year-old grandson, Garrett, who has intractable epilepsy.

“Today Garrett’s parents have three options: They can continue on the medications that we have now, hoping they work and hoping he does not suffer from adverse side effects, they can move to Minnesota (which has a new medical marijuana program coming this summer), or they can illegally obtain cannabis that may be contaminated or altered,” Goodell said. “Please develop a program in Iowa that will provide a safe, consistent source of medical cannabis for Garrett and all the others with serious illnesses.”

Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday, as he has in the past, that he empathizes with those who may be helped by medical marijuana, but he does not want to create a program that results in “unintended consequences” such as the medical marijuana “getting into the wrong hands.”

However, Branstad said Monday he would consider a measure that would allow Iowans to obtain medical marijuana in neighboring states with expanded programs, such as Illinois and Minnesota.

A Quad Cities-area businessman recently earned approval from the Illinois to create a medical marijuana dispensary.

“Maybe that’s a possibility of something we could do. But that’s all speculation,” Branstad said.

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyeden, said he is hesitant to expand Iowa’s program and hopes the Senate moves carefully. He said he also wants to hear from medical and law enforcement representatives.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said expanding the program is worth consideration.

Dotzler told the story of a woman who moved from Denver, Iowa, to Colorado so she could treat her infant daughter’s seizures.

“Her daughter was having 500 seizures a day. … She was there less than a month, and in that month they reduced the seizures by 40 percent. And the last time that I heard from them, it’s been 80 percent,” Dotzler said.

“I heard her daughter on the phone, when I was talking to her, making noises and sounds which she never had done before. She told me she was coming alive. …

“When you’ve got results that are so compelling … why, I ask, would legislators stand in the way of giving somebody an opportunity to turn something around that through traditional medicines have not been turned around, and give them some hope?”

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