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Iowa medical marijuana prompts parents to consider moving

Published: Friday, June 12, 2015 11:33 a.m. CDT

CEDAR FALLS — The Legislature’s failure to expand Iowa’s medical marijuana law has some parents of sick children looking to Minnesota.

Area lawmakers who worked to pass the proposed legislation suggested some Iowans may relocate to nearby states to access medicinal marijuana. Medical marijuana will be legal in limited form in Minnesota beginning July 1.

Some Cedar Falls families confirmed they’re considering their options.

“Obviously, they have all these good things about their bill, but it’s proximity. So, you just gave yourselves competition. Minnesota moved forward. You chose to stay stagnant,” said Brienna Decker.

Decker’s son, Garrett, has severe epilepsy. While the Decker family is not moving yet, she has called the Minnesota Department of Health to learn about that state’s program, which starts July 1. It is limited to Minnesota residents.

“They need to realize when your neighboring states are starting to make this feasible, it’s going to be a whole lot easier for us to be like, ‘I’m done waiting on you,’” Decker said of the legislative inaction.

“Because honestly, our kids don’t have time,” said Carrie Elser, whose daughter, Kylie, has severe epilepsy. “My daughter’s 14. She’s missing her childhood.”

Elser said this legislative session has been frustrating.

“They get to walk away from it, where families, they have to think about it every day. We don’t get to ignore it or not think about it. It consumes you,” Elser said.

Legislation passed last year made it legal to possess an oil form of the medical marijuana called cannabidiol, or CBD, but not access it. Parents like Elser hoped this year lawmakers would change the law to make it a usable option for families.

Elser said lawmakers, by their inaction, leave families like hers little choice but to think about leaving. Still, Elser said she and others will urge more people to lobby lawmakers in 2016.

The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate passed a bill in April to set up a program similar to Minnesota’s, but it was not brought up in the Republican-controlled House. Minnesota has two manufacturers, will set up eight dispensaries and regulate providers of cannabis oil.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen called the Iowa proposal “virtually a recreational use bill.” House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer said she believes the state should not approve the medical cannabis oil before the federal government. And Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said he is concerned about potential unintended consequences of an expanded program.

Elser and Decker reject arguments easing restrictions on cannabis oil would open the door for legal recreational uses of the drug.

“I wish they would understand that this is not a decision that parents would make lightly,” Elser said. “I want to take my daughter off the drugs that make her sleepy and make her tired, so why would I want to give her something that makes her high, right?”

Decker said they agreed with restrictions in the Senate bill, because they want a bill that regulates dosages, access and consultations with physicians.

In Minnesota, a health care practitioner must certify a patient has one of the nine qualifying conditions — ranging from cancer to epilepsy — prior to enrolling in the system. Raw leaf, flowers and edibles are not allowed under Minnesota law. Legal medical cannabis includes only pills, oil and liquid. Patients must be Minnesota residents.

Decker acknowledges medical marijuana isn’t necessarily a “golden ticket” for parents to cure their children, but she said they deserve an opportunity to give their kids the best medicines available.

The side effects of seizure medications are numerous, including lethargy, cognitive delays, kidney and liver damage and dizziness. Elser compared the lethargy to taking cold medicine before starting each work day.

“It’s one of those things where, over time, we hope they run out of excuses, but at the same time we’re running out of options,” Decker said.

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