DES MOINES — Legalizing the possession and use of marijuana-based cannabidiol to treat Iowans with seizure disorders is “too important of an issue not to let it go forward,” a lawman-legislator said Friday before an Iowa House Public Safety subcommittee moved the issue one step closer to a full House debate.
In the absence of evidence that it presents any danger to people who use it to control seizures or to public safety, Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, a police officer, said he didn’t know how the Legislature could deny access to cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that backers say possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits.
Meeting a day after the Senate approved Senate File 2360 36-12, the subcommittee heard emotional testimony from parents of children and adults who suffer debilitating seizure disorders.
Sally Gaer of West Des Moines, one of several mothers of epileptics who has been lobbying lawmakers since before the session began, told the panel her 24-year-old daughter had two seizures in the previous 12 hours despite taking four anti-seizure drugs and two more to combat their effects.
“Things aren’t working. We’re out of options,” she said. “This bill is awesome.”
The measure would give prosecutorial immunity to people who possess cannabidiol, a non-smokable oil extract of marijuana with a low THC level to treat seizures. It would require patients or their caregivers to obtain a state-issued registration card to possess the drug and to have a neurologist’s recommendation to obtain the license. The act is repealed July 1, 2017.
Addressing the public safety issue, Gaer said people who abuse drugs choose to do so.
“My daughter didn’t choose” to have seizures, she said.
Dale Woolery of the Governor’s Office on Drug Control Policy expressed support for “helping the families” but said the office is “cognizant of unintended consequences.”
“We don’t want higher risks for Iowa families unintentionally,” he said.
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Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, a pharmacist for 30-plus years, said the public safety risk is minimal because ingesting enough cannabidiol to get high would cause the stomach to contract “and you would throw up the entire substance.”
Under SF 2360, cannabidiol would have no more than 3 percent THC. While that might be enough to get high if smoked, Forbes said the body utilizes less than 30 percent of it when ingested in an oil form. The rest is processed by the liver and flushed out in urine.
The law’s provision to be eligible to possess and/or use medical cannabidiol would apply only to permanent Iowa residents at least 18 years of age with a written recommendation from a neurologist and registration card for the medical treatment of “intractable” epilepsy. No other medical conditions are eligible.
Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, voiced concerns about what message lawmakers would be sending with passage of SF 2360.
“If we go through with this,” she said, are legislators telling parents they “can feel as safe with that as getting Tylenol off the shelf?”
“Kids need an opportunity to try this,” Forbes said, adding that people with epilepsy die every day because they can’t control the condition.
Forbes went on to say cannabidiol would not be “first line therapy.” Most people with seizure disorders would get a standard regimen of treatment before their doctors would consider cannabidiol.
Subcommittee Chairman Jarad Klein, R-Keota, told Salmon she should be comfortable that SF 2360 tightly regulated cannabidiol.
“If there are egregious abuses and we can’t correct it legislatively, we’re setting it up to be automatically corrected,” Klein said, referring to a provision that sunsets or repeals the bill in July 2017.
The bill could be taken up by the full Public Safety Committee next week, Klein said.