Medical marijuana bill on Iowa governor's desk

DES MOINES, Iowa - The 2017 legislative session is finally over - but lawmakers had to pull an all-nighter at the Statehouse to get it done.

It's all because of a bill that allows medical marijuana to be grown and sold here in Iowa. Lawmakers worked overnight Friday into early Saturday morning. They passed the medical cannabis bill, but not after hours of discussion.

With the clock ticking away into the early morning hours, lawmakers were in a frenzy Saturday morning to end the 2017 legislative session. The big priority - medical marijuana.

"I think it's a significant step forward to provide relief to suffering Iowans," said Republican Rep. Jarad Klein of Keota, who headed the medical cannabis efforts in the Iowa House.

House Republicans spent most of Friday and early Saturday behind closed doors, caucusing and putting together the legislation. And it look until 3:00 a.m. to have a version they could agree on.

"We've got a good bill I think here in front of us that will expand access in the state," Rep. Klein said. "We're talking about growing, we're talking about manufacturing, we're looking at distribution in the state, we're expanding the list of conditions out."

The bill allows medical cannabis to cover more diseases. Those include: cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures, AIDS or HIV, Crohn's Disease, ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease), and "any terminal illness with a probable life expectancy of under one year."

The bill also limits the content of THC in the cannabis oil to three percent. THC is the chemical that gives the high from smoking marijuana. And the bill also creates a medical advisory board to recommend disease changes."

House Democrats wanted to keep the Senate's version of the bill, which covered more conditions and did not put a limit on THC. Still, they say they are happy with the compromise.

I believe that there are some other medical conditions to be treated more effectively with higher THC levels," said Democratic Rep. John Forbes of Urbandale. "For me it's a very big day because now I know we have another medication available to treat chronic diseases here in the State of Iowa."

The bill finally passed the House just after 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning. It went back to the Senate for final approval, where it was met with opposition from some Democrats.

"So for sick Iowans there is not much relief unless you can get relief from hollow House Republican talking points," said Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City.

But in the end, it passed through the Senate just after 7:00 a.m.

"I commend them for taking a positive step forward. It's not perfect but it is a good start," said Republican Sen. Charles Schneider of West Des Moines. "And I think a fitting way to end this legislative session."

And after a long 24 hours, House members agree.

 "I'm hopeful that this bill then will be very meaningful for people throughout the State of Iowa," Rep. Forbes said.

"Sometimes it's a tough road to haul, but it's worth doing because we're providing relief to sick Iowans," Rep. Klein said.

The bill now heads to Governor Terry Branstad's desk. Lawmakers say the manufacturing and processing plants will be ready by December 2018. But the medical conditions will be covered immediately, once the bill is signed by Governor Branstad.


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