State Legislators Signal Action Likely on Medical Marijuana This Year

By James Lynch, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa - The Iowa Senate will move a medical marijuana bill before the end of the 2014 session, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Thursday.

Gronstal has agreed to sign off on very narrowly crafted legislation to permit the use of cannabis oil for seizure disorders.

He and House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said Thursday that the lobbying efforts by mothers of children with seizure disorders, often associated with epilepsy, have kept the issue alive.

"We think there are mothers who have come to the Capitol with tragic stories, difficult circumstances for their kids, who have made a very compelling case that certain elements of marijuana, cannabis oil -- nothing to smoke, can dramatically impact the health and welfare of their children," Gronstal said.

Paulsen couldn't say whether the Legislature will act this session, which he said could end as early as next week, but said the mothers' lobbying effort has changed minds.

"I encouraged them ... that they continue to dialogue with the members," Paulsen said. "I complimented them. I think they have clearly grabbed GA's attention."

Support for very limited use of medical marijuana has been growing as a result of the lobbying effort and educational efforts of lawmakers who back it use. Proponents called Rep. Clel Baudler's public support of legalizing cannabidiol a major step forward in gathering the votes needed in the House. Cannabidiol is a compound in cannabis that has little THC, which makes marijuana users feel high, but greater amounts of the chemical CBD that has medical effects.

Iowa Epilepsy Foundation Legislative Chairman Dale Todd of Cedar Rapids called Baudler, a Greenfield Republican and former law enforcement officer, "probably the most significant player next to the governor."

Gov. Terry Branstad, who previously opposed legalizing medical marijuana, earlier this week indicated support for a medical marijuana bill that's "very limited in focus."

The governor hasn't spoken to Gronstal about medical marijuana, the majority leader said, "but we appreciate the signals we're getting from him."

He said senators are looking at similar legislation in Utah, Alabama and other states "in conjunction with the messages we're getting from the governor and from people in the House."

Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, like Gronstal, would have to sign off on a leadership bill to bring medical marijuana to the floor. He has not been asked to sign a leadership bill and said he would have to read it before deciding whether to sign.
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