Iowa’s highly touted medical marijuana law hasn’t delivered a single dose of relief to any Iowans. Iowa’s Department of Public Health has yet to produce a single card, required by the law before any Iowan can proceed with marijuana treatment.
And the advocates who celebrated passage of the law remain afraid of prosecution for seeking the medical relief authorized by the bill signed into law July 1, 2014, by Gov. Terry Branstad.
"It’s just too dangerous," said Maria La France, a Des Moines mother of a son with intractable epilepsy, the only condition recognized for marijuana treatment under the law. "It’s too scary to break the law, too difficult to lose sleep at night. I frankly spend enough time worrying if my child is going to live another week. I have experimented … I don’t want to say anything that'll get me arrested or in jail. I don't want a lynch mob. Who would take care of him if I got arrested."
The Quad-City Times reconnected with patients and families featured in a December 2013 report, “The Faces of Medical Marijuana.” None of them interviewed reported any change because of the law.
Although Iowa law theoretically allows La France to have and use a marijuana extract oil to treat her son, she has no way to obtain it legally. She said parents would have to set up a residence in one of 23 other states with legal dispensaries, lie to physicians about their residency requirements and transport the oil illegally across state lines.
She admitted lying to get a Colorado medical marijuana card last year, but she let it expire because of the risk.
Advocates for medical marijuana say her fears of arrest are warranted by pointing to the case against Benton Mackenzie. The Long Grove man grew marijuana to produce a very similar cannabidiol-rich oil to treat terminal cancer before he was busted by Scott County Sheriff's deputies, prosecuted and convicted on felony charges, all without being allowed to tell a jury about his condition.
Logan Edwards cited Mackenzie's arrest as the reason he left Iowa last year. The U.S. Marine from Davenport didn't want to get caught with the marijuana he bought off the black market to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder.
Steve and Sally Gaer intend to continue lobbying state legislators to expand the law. Their 24-year-old daughter Margaret, who suffers a type of intractable epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, is on four medications and still suffers seizures more than once a week.
They're turning their attention to the upcoming legislative session. Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City says he wants to introduce bills to expand the Iowa law to include more ailments and allow marijuana to be grown in the state.
"The medicine has to be produced within the state," Bolkcom said. "That's a major omission from our law."
A spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad said the Iowa governor would "carefully review" a bill that passes both chambers expanding the cannabidiol law.
"Gov. Branstad empathizes with those exploring treatment options for epilepsy and other medical ailments," his spokesman Jimmy Centers said in an email. "He believes the bipartisan program passed in Iowa needs time to take effect and its results evaluated before exploring expansion into other illnesses or increasing the production, processing and distribution in Iowa."
Sally Gaer says Iowa's reform, although limited, was a step in the right direction.
"At the end of day, what this Iowa bill says is 'this is medicine,' which is huge," she said. "It doesn’t help us get it right now, but we made a huge step in educating lawmakers and citizens that there are options out there."