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Senate renews effort to legalize medical marijuana

Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 11:37 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — A renewed effort to legalize the use of a form of marijuana to treat chronic epilepsy won bipartisan support Wednesday in the Iowa Senate.

A three-member subcommittee, then the full Senate Ways and Means Committee, approved a measure that would allow the medical use of oil derived from marijuana as a last-resort treatment for chronic epilepsy. The measure is now eligible for floor debate.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City and chairman of the committee, said the legislation is an “important first step” to help Iowa residents who have exhausted all other options.

The form of marijuana that would be legalized cannot be smoked and doesn’t create a high, and it would have to be obtained in another state that produces the oil. A written recommendation from a neurologist would be required for patients and caregivers to legally possess and use the oil, and they would have to acquire a registration card through Iowa’s Department of Public Health.

Bolkcom said the registration approval through the department creates checks and balances to ensure the drug is in the hands of the intended subset of the population. Those who unlawfully possess or use the oil in violation of the reasons provided for in the bill would be subject to punishment.

Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, said he and other lawmakers have worked closely with Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration to draft something as narrow as possible, particularly a provision of the measure that would allow medical marijuana users who move to Iowa from other states to use only the oil.

Bolkcom said lawmakers in the House have also been working on the legislation.

Efforts by women who have children with epilepsy changed some lawmakers’ views on the issue and sparked a revival of a bill previously believed to be dead.

“If this is one way to help these families and these kids be able to control their seizures or prevent them, where these kids can get on with their lives or start developing in a normal way ... if it can do that under all of the narrow circumstances outlined in this legislation, we need to do it for all of the right reasons,” said Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.

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