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Branstad Unsure on Medical Marijuana, Dog Tracks and Anti-Bullying Summit

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Terry Branstad said he’s unsure if he’ll sign the medical marijuana bill passed in the wee hours of the morning last Thursday by the General Assembly.

Branstad told reporters he hasn’t seen the bill yet and struck a note of caution, noting he has 30 days to sign the legislation.

“This is not something that’s been approved by the (Food and Drug Administration),” Branstad said in response to questions from reporters during his weekly news conference.

The legislation gives prosecutorial immunity to people who possess up to 32 ounces of cannabidiol, which is derived from a marijuana plant. The oil contains about 3 percent of the psychoactive component of marijuana but may help control seizures in people suffering from severe epileptic seizures. A state-issued identification card obtained with a neurologist’s prescription would be required for people to possess the oil.

The governor added he did follow the legislation’s track and spoke with some of his counterparts whose states have recently approved similar measures.

“A lot of work went into this in the closing weeks of the session, and I have talked to both the governors of Alabama and Utah that passed similar, very limited pieces of legislation,” he said.

Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, said Branstad is acting too slowly.

“Our job as politicians is to come forward, educate the public on what this means, not hide from it, not say I’m going to take 30 days to review a bill that has been debated and available to everybody very quickly,” Hatch said Monday, during a media availability in the Statehouse. “I would hope that the governor would come out this week and sign that bill to acknowledge that it means so much to these mothers and fathers and they can start working on eliminating the pain to their children as soon as possible. That’s what a governor’s supposed to do. That’s the leadership that we expect.”

Branstad also told reporters Monday he has not decided how he will rule on compromise legislation reached among casino owners in Council Bluffs and Dubuque, Iowa Greyhound Association members and others that would end greyhound racing in Council Bluffs by the end of 2015.

Dog racing would continue at the track in Dubuque, but it would be operated by the greyhound industry under a lease arrangement rather than being bankrolled by the casino. Under provisions of the legislation, the Dubuque track would finish this year’s racing season and then negotiate a lease arrangement with the greyhound industry.

The casinos that finance dog races in Iowa would pay $72 million over the next seven years, with half going to pay greyhound owners and breeders who intend to get out of the business and the other $36 million to assist efforts to continue racing in Dubuque.

“I feel my responsibility is to protect the people of Iowa and the integrity of the state,” Branstad said of the dog-racing compromise. “I will carefully review and consider it. I’ve not made any decision on this.”

The governor also was unsure if he’ll have a third statewide anti-bullying summit this year.

Branstad has hosted such a summit each of the past two years in an effort to explore issues surrounding bullying in schools. Each summit resulted in the governor forwarding legislation to the General Assembly.

Both bills died.

“We came very close this session,” Branstad said.

l Gazette Des Moines Bureau reporter Rod Boshart contributed to this report. Comments: (515) 422-9061;

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