DES MOINES | The Iowa Senate on Thursday approved a narrow opening for Iowa parents with severely epileptic children to treat them with cannabis oil.
After emotional debate, senators voted 36-12 to pass a bill that legalizes the limited use of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that backers say possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits.
Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said the legislation is an effort to give “hope and help” to parents who have spent hours lobbying legislators to allow them access the oil for their children.
“We have an opportunity to do something here today that’s pretty special, and I want to thank the mothers for coming before us and having the courage to stand up when people were saying no. This is unacceptable. We need to move forward,” Dotzler said.
Waterloo mother Sarah Amundson knows the debate has only moved this far because of mothers like her who have shown lawmakers the conversation isn't about skirting the law but about helping suffering kids.
While she has not been as active as other mothers lobbying at the Capitol, Amundson has been following the debate closely and is cautiously optimistic after the Senate's vote.
"I believe there's a better chance today than even six months ago," Amundson said. "My daughter is not at the point where I feel like she needs it right now, (but) it'd be wonderful to know that would be an option in the future."
Amundson's 6-year-old daughter suffers from a rare chromosomal disorder called isodicentric chromosome 15 syndrome, or idic(15), which can cause seizures. Amundson said her daughter's symptoms are currently controlled with medication, but seizures can increase as she ages.
Amundson also says she will believe it's a reality when Gov. Terry Branstad signs the bill into law.
"The fact that it's come this far from a few months ago, that's huge," Amundson adds.
Branstad said he has talked with the governor of Utah, who recently joined Alabama and Wisconsin in approving similar measures, and his staff worked with lawmakers “to make sure that it is very limited and very focused on children with epilepsy.”
That said, however, the governor will reserve judgment until he’s seen the bill in its final form if it reaches his desk.
“I met with the parents, and I do have empathy for the families, but I have concerns,” he added.
Both Dotzler and Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, talked about the families they've met in the Cedar Valley who would be impacted by the bill before they cast votes in favor of the legislation.
The measure now goes to the Iowa House for consideration.
Courier staff writer Christinia Crippes contributed to this story.