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Iowans Beg Legislators To Expand Limited Medical Marijuana Program

Just a year has passed since Iowa first enacted its medical marijuana program, and although it technically permits the use of cannabis oil for epilepsy, how patients are supposed to obtain the oil legally is unclear. Now, patients and legislators are assembling to advocate for new legislation.

Democrats in Iowa have announced plans to introduce legislation this session which would allow a few select businesses in Iowa to produce and distribute medical marijuana, in an effort to ameliorate problems of legal access to the drug, KCCI8 News reports.

Under current law, Iowans can obtain a prescription from their physician for epilepsy with a marijuana derivative, but obtaining the drug legally is essentially impossible. There are no state-licensed dispensaries, cultivation at home is not allowed, and the only condition for which small amounts of cannabidiol oil applies to is intractable epilepsy.

On Monday, Iowa residents testified before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee regarding the difficulties of staying within the law while getting the treatment they desperately need. Access is hard to impossible, and patients suffering from other conditions like Crohn’s disease or PTSD fall outside of the law.

“Having to answer questions from our 2- and 4-year-olds, ‘Why is daddy in the hospital again? When can he come home? Is he going to be OK?’ Not to mention the financial burden of the medications and the hospital bills on my family,” Brandon Braze, a sufferer of Crohn’s disease said, The Gazette reports.

Signalling awareness of the conundrum, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said on Monday he’s sympathetic to allowing Iowans access to marijuana from states like Illinois and Minnesota. “Maybe that’s a possibility of something we could do. But that’s all speculation,” Branstad said. Branstad emphasized that he definitely doesn’t want to live through the unintended consequences of too much marijuana, like Colorado is experiencing.

But until there’s a change, the existing law puts patients who need marijuana for medicinal use in a very precarious situation.

“First and foremost, the system offers no clearly legal way for qualified patients to access medical CBD oils,” Robert J. Capecchi, deputy director of State Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Without a means for instate production and distribution, patients must travel out of state to obtain their medicine. The medical marijuana programs in both Minnesota and Illinois are only open to residents of their states, so absent chance to those state laws, Iowans would likely be unable to access their medicine in either of those states.”

According to Capecchi, the worry that medical marijuana will end up in the wrong hands isn’t a legitimate one. Instead, thousands of Iowans stand to benefit from more easily accessible marijuana. The benefits, he argues, far outweigh the costs, and the costs can be managed by regulation. For example, in Colorado, RFID technology is used to track all operations involved in getting marijuana from seed form to its final destination: heavily regulated dispensaries.

“Cannabis in Iowa is already in the wrong hands because they have not allowed for the legal cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana,” Anthony Franciosi, founder of Ant’s Organic all-natural marijuana, told TheDCNF. “Iowa’s governor already stated that he doesn’t wish for Iowa to turn to recreational cannabis as other states have, but not allowing the creation of a medical marijuana program in the state is saying that the only way Iowans can gain access to marijuana is through the use of illegal means. This seems to lend to the idea that the black-market is the only market, which goes completely against the idea that expanding the laws would risk cannabis ending up in the wrong hands.”

Branstad declined to say whether legislation expanding medical marijuana might pass this year but stated that he will want to discuss the problem of access with Gov. Bruce Rauner from Illinois, as the state recently passed legislation allowing certain companies to produce and distribute medical marijuana.

“Medical marijuana can help numerous individuals suffering from a variety of terrible conditions,” Capecchi told TheDCNF. “It is simply cruel to deny them access to something so beneficial, especially considering marijuana’s side effects are far less severe than many prescription medications that are commonly prescribed for the same conditions. The legislature should pass, and the governor should sign, comprehensive medical marijuana legislation that protects the seriously ill in Iowa from arrest and prosecution for using marijuana under a doctor’s recommendation.”

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