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Advocates hope for broader medical marijuana law

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 27, 2014 at 8:42 am •  Published: July 27, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A narrowly focused medical marijuana law just took effect in Iowa, but advocates are already looking to see how they can expand access to the drug for the chronically ill.

State lawmakers this year approved legislation that allows the use of oil derived from marijuana to treat chronic epilepsy. The law — driven largely by advocacy from mothers of children with epilepsy — includes strict rules for acquiring the oil, such as requiring a state registration card and that the oil must be bought from another state that produces it.

State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, said he hopes the bill, which he sponsored, is a first step toward a more comprehensive medical marijuana law. While his past efforts have been unsuccessful, Bolkcom said he thinks the tide is turning. He hopes to get bipartisan support for such legislation in 2015.

"Members that supported the effort have gotten a lot of positive feedback from Iowans about this. People are more informed about it because of this year," Bolkcom said.

A total of 23 states and the District of Colombia have public medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another 11, including Iowa, have more limited access laws. Advocates contend the drug eases the symptoms of illnesses like cancer, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.

Gaining approval for even the limited marijuana oil law was difficult, and many Iowa lawmakers appear hesitant to go further.

Republican state Rep. Walt Rogers, from Cedar Falls, said he would not support broader legislation. He did not vote for the bill that passed this year, because he thought it sent the wrong message to teenagers about drug use.

"I am afraid of the slippery slope," said Rogers, adding that he feared permitting medical marijuana could lead to legalizing marijuana all together.

A spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad said the Republican governor thinks the state must be cautious about expanding a law that just took effect.

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