DES MOINES | The Iowa Senate voted Wednesday to establish a comprehensive medical cannabis program for Iowans seeking relief from debilitating diseases and conditions.

Senators approved a bill by a 26-19 margin that would authorize the production and dispensation of medical cannabis for expanded uses and medical conditions.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, joined 25 Democrats to pass the bill while Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, opposed the bill with 18 Republicans. Five GOP senators were absent during Wednesday’s floor debate.

“Senate File 484 would create a safe, legal, affordable, effective, highly regulated way for Iowans and their families to access medicine made from cannabis,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, the bill’s floor manager.

“Sick and suffering Iowans are asking for our help. They are asking us because Washington, D.C., is broken,” Bolkcom added. “The simple truth is that Iowa’s elected leaders are the only people who can help them and their families. For many of these Iowans, their lives really are in our hands.”

GOP opponents argued against the bill, calling it a political statement by majority Democrats that will not be taken up by the GOP-led House -- a claim disputed by proponents.

Before passing the bill, senators amended it to reschedule marijuana as a schedule II substance that would be eligible for medical research and prescription by licensed physicians. Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, tried unsuccessfully to revamp the expansive measure to only deal with the schedule change.

“This is something that has an actual chance of passing,” he said before the amendment lost on a 20-24 vote.

Bolkcom noted Iowa enacted a law last year that legalized the possession and use of up to 32 ounces of cannabidiol for the sole purpose of treating intractable epilepsy and its side effects. However, he said that system has proven to be overly limited and unworkable, with residents unable to acquire the medicine from out-of-state sources.

To address the deficiencies of Iowa’s law, proponents crafted legislation modeled after 23 states with comprehensive medical cannabis programs. The bill would prohibit the smoking of medical cannabis products.

The bill also seeks to establish a Medical Advisory Board to provide oversight of the program and consider conditions that would be eligible for medical cannabis.

The proposal would authorize medical cannabis producers, 12 independent dispensaries and a licensing system that would fund oversight. Iowans with a doctor's recommendation would pay up to $100 for a state-issued medical marijuana license.

Opponents said the legislation would “let people self-medicate” but does not provide the protections that would come from advanced research and more study.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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