Medical marijuana bill advances in state legislature

Varad Diwate

Medical marijuana use could become legal for patients with intractable epilepsy under a proposed bill in the state legislature.

Senate File 2360 would make it legal for patients with intractable epilepsy to possess cannabidiol oil, derived from marijuana as recommended by a neurologist. The oil can include no more than three percent of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the component that gives a “high.”

The use will be sanctioned by an identification card issued by the state.

The bill passed the House Public Safety Committee Tuesday and was passed by the Senate last week. The bill is a successor to a senate study bill introduced by Sen. Bolkcom, D-Iowa City.

Proposed amendments include imposing a limit of 32-ounces for possession, changes to rules on cannabidiol registration cards for out-of-state patients and  conducting a study at the University of Iowa School of Medicine on the effect of cannabidiol oil on intractable epilepsy patients.

“While only a few hundred Iowans will be directly affected by Senate File 2360, for these Iowans, this legislation could be a matter of life and death,” said Bolkcom in his opening comments.

Bolkcom said the legislation was formed in response to pleas of parents of children with intractable epilepsy. He said these children continue to suffer with pain while available treatments do not work. Cannabis oil has shown reduced risk of death and number of seizures, he said.

“We are happy to see this push forward. We really do hope that it becomes law because it is very specific and constrained. It’s more than what we can ask for right now.” said Paul Gerlich, sophomore in software engineering and president of ISU NORML, university chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

NORML, a national non-profit supports legalizing marijuana and works towards influencing public opinion on this issue.

The bill does not protect the sale or production of cannabis in the state. So, people who need to get the cannabis oil would still need to travel to other states to get it. One of the concerns raised in the Senate was that people getting medical marijuana from other states would still be in violation of the federal law.

“We are granting immunity to these folks with our county and city police,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton on the Senate floor. “But, by crossing the state lines they are breaking federal law. We are giving a false sense of security to these folks as far as immunity goes.”

Sinclair said the state can also run into problems with federal prosecution.

Marijuana is currently listed as a schedule I drug and carries several penalties for use and trade under federal law. It is defined under drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” 

“I know we don’t want to do anything that sends a message that encourages recreational drug use,” said Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland on the floor. “But, the truth is, it’s not fair mothers can’t get their children a medicine that will help them.”

As of now, 20 states allow medical use for marijuana while two states allow recreational use.

“The proposition that someone would be able to abuse it regularly…is far outweighed by the potential medical benefit for patients,” Gerlich said.

He said the bill provides for a low risk of abuse as it permits a low amount of THC under prescription. He said medical cannabis has further use for terminal patients and soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Once passed by the House, the bill will be sent back to the Senate to confirm the amendments.