DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad is set to meet Tuesday with parents of epileptic children who will lobby the governor for greater access to cannabis oil.
But the governor struck a cautious tone when reporters asked about marijuana legalization during his weekly news conference Monday.
“I’m empathetic of the people that have medical problems, and I want to see us address those in an appropriate way, without creating problems for drug abuse by people that are not suffering from diseases,” Branstad said.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said a bill allowing certain people to possess medical marijuana in the state could be introduced as soon as this week in the Iowa Senate.
“We’re looking at it in a very narrow way,” Bolkcom said Monday during a live broadcast of Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” show.
The Iowa City senator is the leading advocate for medical marijuana in the Legislature.
He’s working on a bill with Republican Sen. Charles Schneider of West Des Moines to allow Iowans who have a doctor’s prescription to buy cannabis oil in states where it’s legal and possess it in Iowa without getting in legal trouble.
“Four months ago, I thought medical marijuana was a sham for recreational use,” said Schneider, who changed his mind after talking to medical marijuana advocates.
“This is an issue that deserves some study,” he said. He said cannabis oil has such low concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, users can’t get high ingesting it.
“It has no street value,” Schneider said. “There really may be something to medical marijuana.”
Maria LaFrance, a medical marijuana advocate from Des Moines, said patients pushing for legalization of cannabis oil have run out of options.
“Other states are leading the way, and Iowans need to have these same options,” she said. "In addition to the 21 states, plus D.C., across the nation, there is pending or approved legislation for allowing low-psychoactive cannabis oil for epilepsy in another 13 states … Iowa is not yet on that list.”
Bolkcom said he is unsure how his bill will fare even if it passes the Senate.
“We do need to see some signs of life from the Iowa House,” he said. “At the end of the day, do have to have a governor willing to sign this thing?”