Iowa Rep. Joe Bolkcom’s medical marijuana bill perished Tuesday the day it was introduced, testament to the long road ahead for a sensible measure that lacks the one thing necessary to get a full hearing in a state legislature these days: A powerful, deep-pocketed lobbying group.
The proposal to decriminalize medical marijuana – not recreational uses – doesn’t have a high-powered lobbyist to push the bill. All it has are sick Iowans and their families desperate for Iowa to get out of the way of cannabis-derived medicine that seems to help patients with no other choices. These families have done the research lawmakers seem unwilling to do. They’ve found successful trials in other states that allow medicinal applications of marijuana. They’ve learned that ointments derived from marijuana extracts ease symptoms and shrink tumors in some cases.
These families would love to see similar trials take place in Iowa. But state law expressly forbids it.
Lawmakers, no doubt confused by the changing attitudes and laws regarding marijuana, seem uninterested in learning more. So with no legislative support for a committee hearing, Bolkcom’s bill died the day it was introduced.
If medical marijuana had a deep-pocketed lobbying group like so many other issues, lawmakers would get detailed info kits handed out at lavish receptions. They’d get calls and emails from supportive groups promising campaign contributions.
Instead, they heard from West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer. His daughter Margaret, 24, has Dravet Syndrome, a form of epilepsy treatable with a marijuana extract. The family would face felony charges if caught administering the ointment. We hoped that by meeting them, lawmakers would drop the knee-jerk opposition from those unable to differentiate medical marijuana from dope smoking.
We were skeptical too, until Times reporter Brian Wellner found seven Iowans desperate for the relief provided by medical marijuana. His account convinced our editorial board that Iowa needs to join the 19 states that regulate medical marijuana.
We would note that Illinois is not among them.
Illinois passed a four-year pilot program that appears will expend the first year debating extraordinarily complex rules. The law established dispensaries based not on patient need or medical feedback. It distributed them based on state police districts. New rules from the Department of Agriculture this month restrict growers and distributors to those with $400,000 in the bank, and able to pay a $5,000 non-refundable fee, $30,000 for an initial permit fee and $25,000 annually to renew the permit.
In short, Illinois set up a program that appears aimed first at raising cash for the state. If a few patients eventually are helped, that’ll be a side benefit.
Iowa never made it that far. It ignored the pleas from severely ill patients, effectively leaving them only two options: Move or break the law.
Meanwhile, an Iowa legislative subcommittee did advance a new bill to legalize another long-banned substance: Fireworks.
Among the first to oppose fireworks legalization is the Iowa Medical Society, for obvious reasons. But don’t expect the Medical Society to sway lawmakers. The Iowa Medical Society way back in 2010 advocated decriminalizing medical marijuana trials in Iowa.