DES MOINES — Maria La France and Sally Gaer say they are exhausted and frustrated, and highly critical of state lawmakers who oppose expanding Iowa’s medical cannabis program.
La France, Gaer and other advocates for legalized medical cannabis oil spoke to reporters Wednesday at the Iowa Capitol as they made one final plea to state lawmakers this legislative session.
Joined by fellow advocates with the grassroots Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis Coalition, La France and Gaer said they are exasperated with state lawmakers who refuse to consider expanding Iowa’s narrow medical cannabis law to allow for the treatment of patients with a variety of diseases like epilepsy, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It boggles my mind that there’s no compassion,” Gaer said. “(Lawmakers) can say they have compassion, but their actions don’t show they have compassion.”
The Democrat-controlled Iowa Senate this year passed legislation expanding the medical cannabis program; leaders in the Republican-controlled Iowa House said they will not consider the proposal.
The Iowa Legislature is nearing the end of its 2015 session, and could wrap up business as early as this week.
“It’s really unfortunate. There are ways to help people. This isn’t that hard,” Gaer said.
A total of 23 states — including Illinois and Minnesota — have medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Missouri has a limited program.
In 2014, Iowa passed a law allowing parents and caretakers to possess medical cannabis oil for prescribed treatment of epileptic children. However, the law does not provide an avenue for Iowa residents to obtain the medicinal cannabis oil, which is not produced in Iowa.
The Senate-approved proposal allows for the production and dispensation of the medical cannabis oil, and expands the number of maladies for which it could be prescribed to treat.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen called the proposal “virtually a recreational use bill.” House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer said she believes the state should not approve the medical cannabis oil before the federal government. And Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said he is concerned about potential “unintended consequences” of an expanded program.
La France, who has a son with epilepsy, said two years of lobbying lawmakers at the Capitol has left her “exhausted” and “annoyed.”
“In my opinion, this governing body has failed and deserves a big, fat ‘F,’” La France said. “I think there is this general understanding of Iowans that our government is going to do a good job. Well they’re not. …
“We’re all sick. We’ve all had to change our lives. We’ve all lost our jobs to take care of our loved ones or ourselves who are suffering. That’s what the government is for, is to help get our lives back on track.”
Iowa Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, was the lone state legislator in attendance Wednesday. She said medical cannabis expansion is dead for the 2015 session, and implored advocates to continue to work to educate lawmakers.
Brown-Powers said she believes it will take scientific evidence to sway legislators.
“I think the compassion side is great to talk to a patient and see where they’re at, but we need to come with the studies that say this is what it’s done for cancer survivors. This is the number for epileptic kids that have shown improvement. We need to start showing those,” Brown-Powers said. “Because I think without that, because we know that several folks in the House think black or white, we’ve got to take that to the next level. They see the compassion side. They see the suffering. But they need to see the numbers.”