A few months after their hopes seemed dashed, parents of Iowa children with severe epilepsy cheered Friday as Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill allowing them to purchase a cannabis oil extract to lessen the effects of their kids' seizures.
Branstad and many Republican legislators were steadfast opponents of previous medical-marijuana proposals. Even the bill's main sponsor declared on the day of its introduction that it had no chance of passing.
But the parents were undeterred. They cornered lawmakers, talked to reporters and met with the governor. They calmly recounted their children's plight and explained that the extract has very little of the chemical in most marijuana that makes people high.
Branstad praised their efforts.
"This bill received tremendous support and truly shows the power of people talking to their legislators and to their governor about important issues to them, to their families and to their children," he said shortly before signing Senate File 2360 in the Statehouse Rotunda.
The crowd included several families with children in wheelchairs. Some parents, whose children were too ill to travel to the Capitol, held up framed pictures of their sons and daughters.
The bill, which takes effect July 1, will prevent Iowa prosecution of families who purchase the special marijuana extract in other states, such as Colorado. In order to qualify, families will need to obtain recommendations from an Iowa neurologist.
Activists celebrated after the bill signing, but noted they still face hurdles: They will have to find an Iowa doctor willing to sign on, they will have to shoulder the financial burden of traveling to other states, and they may have to get on waiting lists of families looking to obtain the marijuana extract.
"We have to be optimistic," said Maria La France of Des Moines, who was one of the main parent activists. "If I was not an optimistic person, I never would have kept coming up here."
La France, whose son, Quincy, has severe epilepsy, expressed hope that Iowa also will consider allowing use of marijuana to treat other ailments, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Previous medical-marijuana bills failed to gain any traction, and many political observers expected this one to run aground. But it was pushed through the Legislature by the persistence of patients' families.
Sally Gaer of West Des Moines, whose daughter, Margaret, has epilepsy, recalled the skepticism she, La France and the other parents faced when they started lobbying for the bill early this year.
"When you're the parent of a special-needs child, you never give up," Gaer said. "So we weren't giving up. Anybody could call a bill dead, but we weren't giving up."
12:35 a.m. CDT May 31, 2014
The Des Moines Register
The Newhawks Crew
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