DES MOINES — Medical marijuana supporters told a House Commerce subcommittee Wednesday that the Iowa Legislature is taking baby steps when it should be running to catch up with the use of medical cannabis in 23 other states.
“It’s time for Iowa to keep leading the way. This is something that is important to a lot of people,” Pat Loeffler of Cedar Rapids, who suffers epileptic seizures told a three-member subcommittee.
Sally Gaer of West Des Moines thanked lawmakers for making it possible in 2014 for Iowans to possess cannabidiol. The oil extract from the marijuana plant has made it possible for her 26-year-old epileptic daughter to sleep through the night for the first time in her life.
“Now it is time to make the treatment available to Iowans to help all of those suffering from epilepsy as well as other debilitating conditions,” she said.
However, House Study Bill 607 doesn’t go as far as Gaer, Loeffler and others wanted.
It goes as far as possible, according to floor manager Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa.
“We’re dealing with the art of the possible,” he said after the Commerce Committee voted 17-6 to approve the bill.
“You saw what the vote was in committee,” Vander Linden said. “If we’re going to do something to help these people it is going to be an incremental process.”
Nine Democrats and seven Republicans voted for the bill. All six “no” votes were from the GOP.
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“It was a crappy vote,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, one of those who opposed the bill.
“I would probably be among the first people to invest in research,” Baltimore said, and he would join the supporters of broader medical cannabis use in asking Congress to reclassify marijuana to allow research and regulation similar to other drugs.
However, as a lawyer and legislator, Baltimore said, he’s taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state and nation that makes it a problem for him to vote for legislation in conflict with federal law.
The committee approved Vander Linden’s amendment to the bill that reduced the number of manufacturers and dispensaries from four and 12, respectively, to just two. It also limits cannabidiol use to the treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and in cases of cancer if the patient is determine to have less than 12 months to live.
Supporters of the use of medical cannabis argued for allowing its use in cases of brain injury, HIV/AIDs and other medical conditions
John Lindley, and Army veteran from Knoxville, asked the subcommittee to add PTSD as a qualifying condition to help him and an estimated 5,000 of his “brothers and sisters” who suffer similar symptoms following their military service.
Subcommittee member and pharmacist Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, expressed disappointment with the amendment’s limitations.
“But it does move it forward … it make more available to Iowans,” he said.
Again, Vander Linden said, the amendment is the “art of what’s possible.”
“We may actually get that out of here. Anything more than that is not politically doable,” he said.
The bill is headed to House Ways and Means because there are fees involved.
“That could be an even heavier lift,” Vander Linden said.
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However, if HSB 607 clears Ways and Means, Vander Linden said, “I would expect on the floor it would get pretty substantial bipartisan support.”
That’s despite opposition from House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, who prefers to wait until the FDA approved medical cannabis.
The Legislature should have acted years ago, according to John Shipley of Jefferson County, who said that as far as he knew he was healthy and had no need for medical cannabis.
“The pain and suffering in this room is very real,” he told the subcommittee. “I just challenge any politician who opposes this, especially the Speaker of the House, to look these suffering patients in the eye and tell them you know better than they do.”