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Guest Columnist

Bolkcom: Legislative colleagues should override governor's cannabis veto

Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) and Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart (left) talk at a groundbreaking event for Iowa Relief LLC, a cannibidiol manufacturing plant that plans to produce medical marijuana starting in July on the southwest side of Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. The company is the second facility to be awarded a state license to manufacture medical marijuana. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) and Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart (left) talk at a groundbreaking event for Iowa Relief LLC, a cannibidiol manufacturing plant that plans to produce medical marijuana starting in July on the southwest side of Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. The company is the second facility to be awarded a state license to manufacture medical marijuana. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

We all make mistakes.

Gov. Kim Reynolds made a mistake when she vetoed legislation that would make essential improvements to Iowa’s medical cannabis program. She got bad advice and didn’t listen to the Iowans most directly involved.

These are our friends and neighbors who suffer every day with such debilitating, life-threatening conditions as cancer, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and severe and chronic pain.

Even with the most advanced medical care and most powerful prescription drugs, their lives are difficult, to say the least.

These Iowans deserve better.

That is why the governor’s veto is so heartbreaking to sick, vulnerable and, in some cases, dying Iowans.

Unfortunately, after five long years, Iowa’s medical cannabis patients have again been told by Republican politicians that they must wait even longer for the affordable medicines they need.

We can fix this problem. This week, Rep. John Forbes and I called on the Republican and Democratic legislators who voted for modest reforms (137 of Iowa’s 150 legislators) to take action to get medicine to Iowans who need relief.

Legislators worked together on a strong, bipartisan plan to make meaningful improvements to the program. Unfortunately, Gov. Reynolds failed to do her own homework.

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Instead of talking to legislators and Iowans, she relied on discredited advice from the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board. Their recommendation to sharply reduce THC levels would make the medicine available in Iowa ineffective for 70 percent of current patients.

The scientific data from 20 years of legal, medical cannabis programs simply do not support Iowa’s strict limits on THC levels. That’s also been the real-life experience of tens of thousands of medical cannabis patients living in the 32 states that already allow medicine with much stronger THC doses.

The governor claims that the reforms in House File 732 would have significant unintended consequences to the health and safety of Iowans. Ironically, the opposite is true.

Since the start of this year, more than 835,000 narcotic prescriptions have been written by Iowa doctors for their patients! Fifty-four percent of those were for fentanyl and other highly addictive opioids. Iowans need protection from the drug companies and their deadly opioids, not from far safer medicines made from cannabis.

Today, 70 percent of Iowa medical cannabis patients — with an average age of 57 — seek cannabis-based medicines to manage untreatable or severe and chronic pain. Patients with severe pain simply need higher levels THC to get relief.

This is also true for nine of the other ten debilitating medical conditions approved for medical cannabis under state law.

Reynolds’ veto of this important legislation is already resulting in more Iowans returning to opioids, the illegal market or other medical cannabis states with effective, compassionate programs. Making it harder and illegal for sick Iowans to get medicine is cruel and life threatening.

By overriding the veto, the Legislature can immediately help thousands of sick Iowans. The votes are there to correct this mistake.

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Please contact your state senator and state representative today and ask them to help. Tell your legislators to stand by their votes, stand with the sick patients we all want to help and put the welfare of Iowans ahead of party, politics and drug company profits.

• Joe Bolkcom is a Democratic state senator representing Iowa City.

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