At Liberty by Adam Sullivan

What is the Iowa House afraid of?

Nancy Gutcher worked as a registered nurse for over 30 years. She’s a veteran of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. She describes herself as a “Christian mother, grandma, daughter, sister, aunt.”

Is she what Republicans in the Iowa House are afraid of?

Time is running out on the 2017 legislative session and the Iowa House still has not approved a workable update to Iowa’s medical marijuana law. A bipartisan bill overwhelmingly approved by the Senate earlier this week gave advocates a glimmer of hope, but now lawmakers are quibbling over specific rules and restrictions in the proposal.

Gutcher is what some call a “marijuana refugee.” The legislature’s inaction has driven her away from her home in Iowa in search of pain relief.

A health care provider by trade, Gutcher used to think marijuana was a “bad drug.” Then four years ago she faced a lengthy and difficult medical crisis.

Gutcher was hospitalized following a sudden fever and vomiting episode. She would eventually receive several diagnoses, including a condition called occipital neuralgia, which inflicts unbearable nerve pain.

Medical professionals gave Gutcher narcotic painkillers, lots of other prescription pills, physical therapy, nerve-blocking procedures, and eventually a neurostimulator, which is a device installed in a patient’s body to block pain by stimulating the brain and spine.

The neurostimulator helped, but hers was just a trial. The permanent device would more than $100,000 and wouldn’t be covered by her insurance. Back on heavy pharmaceuticals, she found herself unable to do basic physical tasks and had to quit her job.

Finally about a year ago, Gutcher agreed to try a treatment with CBD, one of the compounds found in marijuana and saw that it her pain better than any of the harsh medications she had been prescribed, plus it didn’t have debilitating side effects.

Gutcher eventually made the “desperate decision” leave her life and family in Eastern Iowa and move to Colorado in order to legally use prescription cannabis products for pain relief.

“It was my only hope of getting any quality of life back,” she said.

Someday, people will find it remarkable and confusing that Iowa grandmothers in 2017 were allowed to have neurostimulators installed for $100,000, but were strictly prohibited from using a certain non-toxic plant for pain relief.

What frustrates and puzzles me most is that Gutcher’s medical story is not unique. Dozens or maybe hundreds of people like her have called lawmakers, written letters, and visited the statehouse in the past few years.

If there is a lawmaker in Iowa who hasn’t heard from an Iowan who would legitimately benefit from medical marijuana, then they haven’t been paying attention.

Yet it’s been three years now since the Iowa Legislature first passed a pretend medical cannabis bill, which helped precisely zero people.

Medical marijuana is a political inevitability, but will Iowa get a workable system next year, or in 10 years? Sick Iowans are have been left guessing by the Iowa House.

Real reform can still happen this year. There still is time for the Iowa House to do the right thing and pass Iowa’s bipartisan medical marijuana bill.


• Adam Sullivan’s column appears on Fridays. Comments:;


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