Months of advocacy on behalf of her son ended in disappointment Tuesday for Tina McDermott.
The Davenport mother, convinced marijuana will help her son's seizures where pharmaceuticals failed, was saddened when a bill decriminalizing the drug for medical use failed instantly upon its introduction in the Iowa Legislature.
"I could cry I'm so disappointed," McDermott said. "There's not even a chance for our kids. Unbelievable. I know I'm not going to quit, but today was a big day."
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, introduced the bill Tuesday that would allow patients with certain medical conditions to receive marijuana on a doctor's recommendation.
But he couldn't get bipartisan support, he said.
“There’s disappointment we were not able to recruit bipartisan support for a very narrow bill to help these families with children suffering from seizures as a result of epilepsy," Bolkcom said. "We’re not going to be successful creating a program until we have bipartisan support for it. So we have a lot of education work to do ahead here.”
This is the so-called funnel week during which all bills have to make it through the committee process by Friday in order to continue to be considered this session. There are limited exceptions to the rule.
Bolkcom’s bill, Senate File 2215, was referred to Human Resources for assignment, but Bolkcom said it wouldn’t be assigned by the deadline.
“No. It’s dead,” he said.
McDermott, whose son Ryan suffers from Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy, first learned last year of medical marijuana's potential benefits and has attended meetings and phoned and written her legislators ever since.
McDermott shared her son's story with the Quad-City Times in December.
She said that on one recent weekend, she called 10 legislators on the issue.
"Only Roby Smith got back to me, and he's a Republican," McDermott said.
Smith is a senator from Davenport.
“That was a bill that was not even in my committee, so I never had a chance to look at it," Smith said. "I don’t want to speculate how I would have voted on it. So I apologize. Some people have mentioned some things to me, but it’s not fair for me to answer without having looked at it.”
Carl Olsen, a marijuana activist in Des Moines, considers the fact there was a bill at all a "small victory" after urging the Iowa Board of Pharmacy to write rules based on its 2010 recommendation to reclassify the drug.
Marijuana is classified in Iowa as a Schedule I controlled substance with no medical value. It has the same classification under federal law, but 20 states have changed their laws.
"The momentum is there," Olsen said. "The odds of Congress rewriting law is slim to none. But when six more states enact marijuana laws, the feds may take a look."
Maria La France of Des Moines, whose son Quincy also suffers seizures, said she feels "shafted" by Iowa's legislators.
"Other parts of the country are recognizing the medical benefits of cannabis, so at a minimum, I think the rescheduling bill should pass," La France said.
Both Olsen and La France said they're planning to participate in a telephone conference meeting with the Board of Pharmacy on March 5 to speak on the issue.