A Republican lawmaker will sponsor legislation to legalize the production and distribution of medical marijuana in the state. At a statehouse news conference, a group known as Iowans for Medical Cannabis released a survey showing wide support for the bill.
After a long political struggle in 2014, the Iowa legislature approved a bill allowing families to possess cannabis to treat epileptic children.
Steve Gaer of West Des Moines has a 25 year old epileptic daughter. The family had to buy the cannabis elsewhere, and the only place that sells cannabis oil to non-residents is Oregon.
“We have the resources to go to Oregon four times a year, but how are we going to get it home?” he asks. “No airline is going to let me bring 32 ounces of cannabis oil on an airplane to get it home.”
So families began advocating for a more wide-ranging medical marijuana bill. Now they have a Republican sponsor for a bill to allow marijuana to be grown and distributed in the state in a non-smokable form for a limited number of medical conditions.
They face a likely political struggle again. But they have some research on their side.
“Iowans are ready for a medical cannabis law this year,” says Brian Pins with Quester Research. Quester’s survey of Iowans concludes that 76 percent favor the legal production and distribution of medical cannabis for qualifying medical conditions. For Republicans it’s 60 percent, and for Democrats it’s 87 percent.
The bill’s sponsor is West Des Moines Republican Peter Cownie, chair of the House Commerce Committee. The Gaers live in his district. He admits the bill won’t be easy to pass.
“I would ask everyone to keep an open mind on the bill,” Cownie says. There are predispositions having to do with the word marijuana of course.”
Cownie agrees with the families of epileptic children that allowing possession of cannabis wasn’t enough.
“That’s the problem we had with the original bill,” Cownie says, “and that is what this bill solves.”
So under the bill cannabis would be grown and distributed under what backers call accessible but strict parameters.
After some waiting, families like the Gaers now have access to a form of cannabis oil through mail-order.
Steve Gaer says the effect on his daughter Margaret has been dramatic.
“Within the first six weeks of her taking these, she's started sleeping through the night which she's never done for 25 years,” Gaer says.
Margaret Gaer has suffered mental disability as a result of the strong anti-seizure medications she takes. Steve Gaer says her speech and coordination have improved, and her seizures have been dramatically reduced. But he says families need a more effective product that local production would provide.
Margaret Gaer’s mother Sally Gaer has been a leading activist for medical marijuana since the limited cannabis law was passed.
Speaking at the news conference, she was overcome.
“Cannabis must become accessible to Iowans in 2016,” Gaer said, fighting back tears. “Our hearts are broken.”
Gaer says activists are grieving the loss of a fellow activist Lori Tassin. Tassin was a cancer patient who lobbied along with them at the statehouse for medical marijuana.
She died of cancer last year.
Representative Cownie will introduce his bill Wednesday. He says there will be other Republican sponsors though he didn’t reveal how many.
Running the bill through the Commerce Committee instead of the Public Safety committee is a novel approach. Public Safety is led by law and order Republican, former state trooper Clel Baudler.
He wouldn’t say what he thinks about the bill.
“What bill?” Baudler asks. “Have you seen it? I haven't seen it. I’ll reserve my comments until i see it.”
Meanwhile, the epilepsy foundation and the multiple sclerosis society are joining in the effort, anticipating those conditions will be covered by the bill.