The faces of suffering Iowa families seem to be the difference for Iowa legislators struggling to comprehend something those families already have figured out.

Medicinal marijuana – just like medicinal opiates, barbiturates, cocaine, amphetamines and alcohol – can have therapeutic benefits that have nothing to do with intoxication or black market deals. Iowa’s Democrat-controlled Senate finally said yes to an extremely limited bill permitting possession of a marijuana oil extract these families say can relieve some symptoms of epilepsy and some other ailments.

We featured some of those families in Times reporter Brian Wellner’s Dec. 15 stories. Without those stories, many lawmakers couldn’t shake the notion that medical marijuana users were simply dopers looking for legal high.

What some lawmakers learned in those stories and subsequent hearings in Des Moines is that medicinal marijuana is helping epileptic children, post-traumatic stressed veterans and others with muscular or nerve disorders. We hope they’re learning that lawmakers’ marijuana myopia is harming Iowans seeking help, not a high.

Quad-City state Sen. Roby Smith was among the Republicans who opposed the bill in the Senate committee. Among the concerns raised in committee and full Senate debate:

• Iowans still might have to travel out of state to obtain the oil extract, perhaps subjecting them to arrest elsewhere.

• The federal Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve marijuana oil extract.

• Other states have passed medicinal marijuana laws that make prescriptions and purchases possible for almost any condition.

The concerns are surprising, considering the sources.

The oil is readily available online. Aligning Iowa laws with other states rarely has been a Republican priority. This specific marijuana oil legislation is unlike medicinal marijuana laws anywhere.

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FDA approval hasn’t stopped Iowa use and purchase of literally hundreds of homeopathic and over-the-counter remedies widely available at Walgreens, CVS and elsewhere. Vitamin supplements, skin care ointments and energy drinks are just a fraction of the products Iowans use with neither FDA approval nor a state legislative ban.

Yet, Iowa Republican lawmakers seem to be saying that only approval by government agencies can legitimize this specific marijuana extract.

That’s where the faces become important. In addition to the Iowans featured in Wellner’s story, lawmakers heard from Republican West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, his wife Sally, and their 24-year-old daughter Margaret, who has Dravet syndrome, a form of epilepsy. Faced with emotional pleas from another Republican elected official, some lawmakers are beginning to comprehend that government bureaucracy impedes relief.

At this late date in the legislative session, the easy route for lawmakers would be to surrender to government bureaucracy by deferring authority to the FDA or other agencies.

We encourage lawmakers to instead look at those faces. Then look at Iowa statutes. The state manages to regulate all kinds of medicinal substances that can be abused for intoxication. In fact, Iowa manages, regulates and owns lock, stock and barrel the entire wholesale distribution alcohol business that delivers every drop of hard liquor to Iowans.

Surely this legislature can support a bill that provides heavily regulated relief to Iowa families who are asking for it.

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