Senate Democrats moved ahead Thursday with their plan to broaden Iowa’s medical marijuana law, even though House Republicans reiterated their lack of interest in the subject.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a bill that would allow Iowans to obtain marijuana if a health care provider certified they had one of a range of health problems, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Senate Study Bill 1243 also would allow up to four producers to grow marijuana in Iowa, with oversight from state officials, and it would allow independent dispensaries to sell the drug. The Legislature last spring passed a limited medical marijuana bill that would allow possession of a special extract by people with serious epilepsy. But that law doesn’t allow other uses, and it doesn’t provide a legal method to obtain the medicine.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, an Iowa City Democrat, said the current bill includes many of the best ideas from the 23 states that have more extensive medical-marijuana programs. “There’s no need for Iowa to reinvent the wheel,” he told his colleagues.
Bolkcom noted that the hearing room was packed Thursday with patients and families who have lobbied tirelessly for access to medical marijuana. “They showed great courage to come here and try to convince us to do something that’s really hard to do,” he said. “They deserve an amazing amount of credit.”
But Republicans on the committee opposed the bill on a 9-5 vote. One of them, Sen. Michael Breitbach of Strawberry Point, said the proposal wouldn’t do enough to control production and distribution of marijuana so it couldn’t be abused. “I’m not ready to vote for it yet, but I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he told Bolkcom. Republican leaders of the Iowa House and Gov. Terry Branstad have said they don’t want to revisit the issue this spring, because they want last spring’s law to have more time to work. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen reiterated that stance to reporters Thursday morning. “I don’t believe the General Assembly will do anything with medical marijuana this year,” he said.
After Thursday’s Senate committee meeting, medical marijuana advocates said they were undaunted by House leaders’ opposition. “If their life was on the line, they might have a different opinion,” said Madena Burman of DeSoto, who has a genetic condition that causes colon cancer. “I would like to see people become advocates before it affects their own lives. And I have a problem with someone else’s fear overriding my choice for my life and my body.”