Medical Pot Bill Likely Dead in Iowa Legislature

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By Aaron Hepker

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa Senate subcommittee on Monday approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana, but a key supporter said the proposal likely is dead in the Legislature for this session.

Although the human resources subcommittee passed the measure 2-1, panel chairman Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said there isn't support to approve it in the full committee. A House subcommittee rejected a similar bill in January.

Bolkcom said he introduced the legislation to follow the Iowa Board of Pharmacy's 2010 recommendation that marijuana be considered a Schedule II drug, or having some medicinal value.

"This is an issue that is greatly stigmatized," Bolkcom said. "This debate and the education around this needs to happen."

Under the bill, an adult with a qualifying condition, such as cancer, could get a prescription for medical marijuana. The proposal would allow for the creation of nonprofit dispensaries to provide marijuana to eligible patients.

Iowa's consideration of the issue comes after 18 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use.

Last November, Colorado and Washington state voters also approved the recreational use of marijuana.

State Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, opposed the Iowa bill, saying it would be difficult to ensure dispensaries wouldn't sell marijuana to people without prescriptions.

The Senate subcommittee approved the measure after hearing from supporters who said marijuana helps them effectively treat health conditions.

Des Moines resident Mike Niday, who served in the Marines, said he started using marijuana to cope with side effects from post-traumatic stress disorder because prescription medication didn't work for him.

"It made me a zombie and severely affected my family life," Niday said. "But medical marijuana allows me to have a normal life with much less suffering and no side effects."

Chaney Yeast, manager of the Regional Child Protection Center at Blank Children's Hospital, said the center, which works to prevent child abuse, opposed the bill because it feared it would send a confusing message to young people that the drug is safe and healthy.

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