The Iowa Legislature moved Wednesday toward decriminalizing oil derived from marijuana for the treatment of severe epilepsy, with lawmakers casting on-the-record votes supporting a proposal many believed had no chance of passage this year.
After weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations and bill drafting, legislation was introduced in the Senate and advanced through a key committee on Wednesday – positioning it for floor debate as early as Thursday.
Senate Study Bill 3222 creates a licensing system for patients with “intractable” epilepsy and their caregivers to pursue treatment with cannabidiol, an oil derived from marijuana that has been shown to reduce seizures and improve other symptoms related to the illness.
Under the bill, patients or their caregivers who receive a neurologist’s recommendation for cannabidiol would be able to apply for a state-issued identification card allowing them to possess and use the oil without fear of prosecution under state marijuana laws.
The substance is not smokeable and contains low amounts of THC, the substance that gets users high.
Many procedural steps remain before the bill becomes law, but the actions taken Wednesday signal bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and the underscore the success of months of lobbying and weeks of intensive legislative negotiation.
That lobbying effort began even before the session convened, and has been led by several mothers of children with severe epilepsy who visited the Capitol repeatedly to plead their cases with lawmakers. Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, introduced a bill in February and declared it dead that same day, citing opposition from Republicans and others.
Since then, though, the lobbying effort has continued, and Bolkcom said he’s worked through “a dozen” different versions of the bill trying to find something that could win wide approval.
The bill does not allow for the cultivation, production or sale of the oil, meaning patients or caregivers will have to obtain it in states with less restrictive medical marijuana regimes. It contains provisions for reciprocity with other states that have programs for patients with epilepsy.
It is unclear, at this point, where exactly patients and caregivers may be able to obtain cannabidiol given the patchwork of state laws concerning medical marijuana and the availability of the highly specialized formulation of the oil. Some lawmakers have suggested Colorado, and parents said Wednesday they may have to go to Oregon, Michigan or elsewhere.
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