Doctors Tell Iowa Lawmakers Medical Marijuana Is Effective

By Alison Sullivan, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa - The medical community doesn't dispute the benefits of cannabis and the relief it can provide for patients when other medicines don't help, experts told a Senate panel Wednesday.

Thomas Carlstrom, a retired Des Moines neurosurgeon, told lawmakers that for patients suffering from seizures and other forms of chronic pain, including epilepsy, marijuana has proven to be therapeutic.

"I think its time has come. I think the medical uses for marijuana are absolute, they are happening ..." Carlstrom said. "I think we really need to give serious thought to approving it."

Doctors joined advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana Wednesday at the Iowa Statehouse. Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, has remained a strong advocate for medicinal marijuana for years. He proposed a bill this year to legalize cannabis that failed to garner support.

Connie Norgart, 59, is one patient who couldn't find relief from her prescribed medicines until she tried smoking marijuana last year to address the chronic pain she suffered from post-polio syndrome. The nurse and West Des Moines resident said she noticed less pain and stopped taking other medicines.

Medicinal cannabis is often smoked but other forms include vaporization, concentrated oils and even topical skin solutions.

"Why did I take a chance at being arrested and being a criminal?" Norgat said, her voiced quivered with emotion. "Because I want a quality of life ... I want to be able to play with my grandkids without pain."

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance in Iowa and at the federal level, but 20 states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing medicinal marijuana programs. Advocates said Iowa Code does permit marijuana to be exempted if for medical purposes.

Sen. Charles Schneider, R- West Des Moines, who attended the presentation during the Senate Commerce Committee, said although he's open to discussions on legalizing medical cannabis his biggest concern remains such legislation could open the door for rampant recreational use.

"I don't want a system where it's so easy to get a prescription for medical marijuana that the prescription is really just fiction," Schneider said, indicating wariness that easy access to prescriptions can prompt recreational use.

Frank Caligiuri, assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Drake University, told lawmakers he feels the negative connotations connected to the word "marijuana" over the past few decades has contributed to reservations.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D- Des Moines, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee said he felt the panel made "tremendous headway" in an ongoing effort to educate lawmakers on the medical benefits of marijuana. McCoy said he sees a bipartisan bill being proposed next session on the subject.

Advocates for medicinal marijuana aren't only lobbying lawmakers. Maria La France, a mother who says her son, Quincy, suffers from epilepsy and would benefit from cannabis, told several Iowa Board of Pharmacy members Wednesday morning to consider a rule change regarding medical marijuana.

The board came out in support of medical marijuana in 2010 and recommended legislation on the issue, which didn't advance. The board will make its decision during a formal meeting next week, however officials with the board have said it's a decision best left up to lawmakers. Any rules proposed by the board would have to be approved by the Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad.
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