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Medical Marijuana

DES MOINES — House Speaker Linda Upmeyer is not convinced of the benefits of medical cannabis for treating severe illness, but is convinced of the public sentiment to continue to make it available if only on a limited basis.

“I’m hearing from a lot of people,” the Clear Lake Republican said Thursday. “Not necessarily my constituents, but Iowans, so all of our constituents, that this is something that people would like to try.”

Upmeyer, a nurse, said she is “a little reluctant” to believe in the benefits of medical cannabis as much as others do, “but I think we are to the point that at least there are dosage levels, there are things that people should be able to try and see if they work.”

She believes the Legislature will continue to allow Iowans access to cannabidiol oil to treat epilepsy. Upmeyer also wants Iowans to have access to Epidiolex, a cannabidiol product for treating epileptic conditions, when it is available on the market.

Iowa’s 2014 law, which will expire unless the Legislature acts, allows licensed neurologists to certify patients with intractable epilepsy to use cannabidiol products with up to 3 percent THC. It does not allow other physicians to write qualifying recommendations or let patients with other conditions obtain cannabidiol products.

“I think it’s a foregone conclusion,” Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, who has been leading efforts in the House to expand use of medical cannabis, said about ending the sunset on the use of cannabidiol oil. “I am not interested in taking medicine away from sick people who are currently receiving it.”

The question is whether the House will go further. He believes Senate File 506 is flawed.

The bill would license up to four manufacturers to “possess, cultivate, transport or supply medical cannabis” by July 2, 2018, so up to 12 licensed dispensaries could begin distribution to qualified adults by July 16, 2018.

Patients or primary caregivers 18 or older who are permanent Iowa residents and who have been certified by a health care practitioner would be eligible to receive registration cards to procure medical cannabis to cope with medical conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, AIDS or HIV, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, amyotrophic lateral Sclerosis, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder or Tourette’s syndrome.

A medical advisory board also would be in place by Aug. 15 to oversee the program and consider adding illnesses.

Klain said the problem is not in the concept but the details. House members have questions about the THC levels, resins and provisions related to doctor licensing and immunity.

Upmeyer has heard some senators, who approved SF 506 on a 45-5 vote, express reservations about the bill.

“So in any case, it will be changed in some fashion,” she said. “But I believe we will end up with a bill.”

Republicans will continue to discuss the issue in private strategy sessions, Klein said, and he has a meeting with Gov. Terry Branstad’s staff.

The governor has said little about his thoughts on medical cannabis other than his is willing consider expanding access, but would reserve judgment until seeing the final legislation.

Last fall, he said he opposes recreational use of marijuana, but wanted to learn more about grow-and-dispense operations in neighboring states.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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