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Branstad Says He'll Sign Medical Marijuana Bill

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JOHNSTON — Although skeptical, Gov. Terry Branstad plans to sign legislation creating a “very careful experiment” in the use of cannabis oil in treating seizure disorders.

The governor plans to sign Senate File 2360 next week to allow the use of cannabis oil in limited circumstances.

Despite opposition to legalizing medical marijuana or recreational use of marijuana, Branstad said it was empathy for the families of Iowans with seizure disorders that convinced him to sign the bill.

“I guess the Legislature and I were convinced, I think, by a lot of the families that have children that are epileptics and have these severe seizures, that this is something that can help them,” Branstad said during taping of Iowa Press Friday.

The show will air on Iowa Public Television at 7:30 tonight and noon Sunday and on IPTV World at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. It will be available at beginning Friday evening.

On Friday night, the governor was in Marion for a Tribute to Veterans event with other Republicans.

“What we passed can work and we want to be very careful and very vigilant and going to those who only have a prescription,” Branstad said while in Marion.

Branstad’s decision to sign the bill was welcomed by the Iowa Epilepsy Foundation, which worked with the governor and legislators to move the legislation.

“We appreciate his willingness to give those with epilepsy this option,” Dale Todd of Cedar Rapids, legislative chairman of the foundation, said Friday. “His signing will allow us to move forward with the discussions needed to make medical cannabis a feasible option for these patients.”

Branstad consulted with Republican governors in Alabama and Utah, where similar legislation has been approved.

“I believe that this was something that will give some hope to these families who have members that are suffering from epilepsy and deal with these severe seizures,” he said.

Branstad made clear, however, he’s not interested in expanding the scope of medical marijuana to cover post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain or other conditions for which it is sometimes used.

“This legislation was very limited, very focused” on treating epileptic seizure disorders, the five-term Republican said. “I think it would be a mistake to now expand it a whole bunch of other things.”

Senate File 3260 passed the House 77-20 and then followed in the Senate by a 38 to 8 margin. Every Democrat, except for one in the House, voted for its passage while about two-thirds of Republicans supported it.

“When I first heard of it, I was kind of skeptical,” said Sen. Liz Mathis (D-Robins) on Friday afternoon in Cedar Rapids. “I just needed to learn more and I was wondering why the medical community was not rising up and supporting this.” Mathis said, like Branstad, it was the stories from the families that led to her support.

The legislation will allow Iowans diagnosed by an Iowa neurologist with intractable epilepsy to seek permission from the Department of Public Health to obtain up to 32 ounces of cannabis oil for treatment. If approved, the patient or guardian will not be prosecuted by the state for possession of cannabis oil. The card must be renewed every year. The bill sunsets July 1, 2017.

The THC content of cannabis oil can be no more than 3 percent, which is not enough to create a “high,” according medical professionals who testified before the Legislature.

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