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Rep. Peter Cownie
Rep. Peter Cownie

DES MOINES — A more robust medical cannabis program in Iowa is about to get another look.

Rep. Peter Cownie, from the Iowa House Republican caucus that has been a barrier to a more expansive medical cannabis program, said Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation that would permit the production and dispensation of cannabidiol for the prescribed treatment of certain ailments, such as epileptic seizures.

Cownie said he will run the bill through the House Commerce Committee that he chairs, starting as early as later this week.

“I believe we were all elected to help Iowans, and I believe the bill before us … will do just that,” Cownie said Tuesday at a news conference at the Capitol.

Cownie, of West Des Moines, said he expects his proposal will have bipartisan support, and he hopes legislators, including leadership in his party, keep an open mind.

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“It’s very sensitive, very emotional,” Cownie said.

Iowa in 2014 legalized possession of cannabidiol but provided no legal route for patients to obtain the product, making the law ineffective in the eyes of those who would use the product.

Ever since, advocates have pushed for expansion of the law to allow cannabidiol to be manufactured and sold in Iowa. Statehouse Democrats have embraced the idea, while Republicans largely have resisted.

The Democratic-controlled Senate last year passed a bill that would expand the state’s medical cannabis program.

The bill did not receive a hearing in the Republican-controlled House, and this year, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said she thinks Iowa should not expand the program until federal regulators approve cannabidiol for treatment.

Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has been hesitant to embrace an expanded medical cannabis program, although he has not ruled it out.

“I believe it is time for the Iowa House to act,” Cownie said Tuesday.

Steve Gaer, the mayor of West Des Moines, said at Tuesday’s news conference that cannabidiol treatments have yielded remarkable results for his daughter with a rare and debilitating form of epilepsy. He said his daughter’s seizures have decreased by half, and for the first time in her 25-year life, she is sleeping through the night and speaking in full sentences.

Gaer said his family, after spending years on a waiting list, was able to acquire cannabidiol from Oregon, which sells to non-residents.

Gaer also pushed back at Upmeyer’s suggestion that state lawmakers should not act out of step with the federal Food and Drug Administration. In addition to the 23 states with medical cannabis programs, Gaer said his daughter takes another prescribed medication that, like cannabidiol, does not have FDA approval.

“We don’t think that’s an argument people should hide behind,” Gaer said.

Steve Gaer’s wife, Sally, sobbed as she spoke about Lori Tassin, the Des Moines cancer patient and medical cannabis advocate who died last fall at 44 years old. Sally Gaer recalled her final conversation with Tassin, when she told Tassin there was “plenty of time” for her to get stronger to return to the Capitol in 2016 and continue her advocacy.

“Medical cannabis has to become accessible to Iowans in 2016,” Sally Gaer said. “Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are strong.”

More than three out of four Iowans support an expanded medical cannabis program, according to a recent online survey conducted for the volunteer advocacy group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis. Quester, a Des Moines-based market research company, found the support from online “conversations” with 1,012 Iowa registered voters from Dec. 31 to Jan. 12.

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