Written by: Kim Norvell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hundreds of Iowans gathered on the Capitol steps Tuesday to tell state lawmakers that it's time to approve a comprehensive, safe medical cannabis program.
The crowd of nearly 200 at the Rally for Compassionate Cannabis included patients, caregivers, legislators and local government officials. They stood with signs that read "Stop the Suffering" while speakers shared sometimes emotional stories about their experiences with medical cannabis.
Windsor Heights Mayor Diana Willits announced that her city passed a resolution Monday that supports legislation to legalize medical cannabis. She said she has a petition signed by more than 80 mayors, county supervisors and council members from across the state.
"This is not a partisan issue. This is something for the health and safety of our citizens," Willits said. "It truly is heartbreaking that legislators are not paying attention to their citizens and their constituents. It's time for everybody to put their political obstacles aside and do what's right in a nonpartisan way."
There was bipartisan support at Tuesday's rally. Both Democratic and Republican state lawmakers spoke in support of medical cannabis.
The Iowa Senate passed legislation in 2014 that makes it legal for Iowans with epilepsy to use cannabis oil. Proponents argue it's useless because it is still illegal to manufacture or distribute cannabis oil in Iowa.
New legislation, House File 2384, would establish two grow facilities in the state and allow use of cannabidiol by patients who suffer from epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or terminal cancer. It is still being debated at the committee level.
West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, who co-founded Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis with his wife, said it's time to bring forward more comprehensive legislation that recognizes "this medicine works." Twenty-three states have medical marijuana programs and Iowans have shown clear support, he said. A recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found 78 percent of residents support the use of medical marijuana. More than 90 prominent business leaders have signed a letter in support of the legislation."Our point is, the ZIP code you live in shouldn't govern what medicine you're entitled to receive," Gaer said. "What other issue is our Legislature dealing with that (nearly) 80 percent of Iowans all want to happen?"
Gaer's daughter, Margaret, suffers from severe epilepsy and has shown marked improvement since she began using cannabis oil. Her mother, Sally Gaer, said Iowa is morally obligated to make this treatment option available to residents. "This legislation cannot wait any longer," she said. "Iowans suffering from severe medical conditions are out of options."
Another mother, Erin Miller, said that her son, Abram, is 269 days seizure-free thanks to medical cannabis. Abram suffers from a rare disorder that causes severe epilepsy. He was put on clonazepam, an FDA-approved sedative used to treat seizures, that worsened his cognitive development, Miller said. "This drug stole my son," she said.
His neurologist suggested they begin using medical cannabis. But it took her family seven months to obtain a state card allowing them to possess cannabis oil. The law requires that the prescribing doctor practice medicine in Iowa."Today my son is walking, running, laughing and is making new sounds. He's giving kisses, sleeps better and he's finally able to be a little boy," she said. "Abram is living proof that cannabis is medicine. My son is a patient, and I am not a criminal. I'm just a mom following doctor's orders."
Craig Miller, a West Des Moines resident whose wife, Deb, suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, said the new law being considered does not cover her debilitating condition. He called for an advisory board of doctors and medical professionals to run the state's medical cannabis program so that decisions whether to include other conditions are not made by lawmakers.
"My question to (legislators) is what makes them think they can determine whether or not my wife's disability is any less deserving of this medicine than another disability?" he said. "That responsibility lies with Deb's doctors and her as a patient alone."