- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Patients and medical experts told Iowa lawmakers Wednesday about the positive uses of medical marijuana, arguing the medical community and public could benefit from the drug.

Relatives of patients with epilepsy and cancer who testified before the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee told lawmakers they’ve exhausted their options for pain-relieving and seizure-related drugs. They say medical marijuana can ease the side effects of drugs already taken or can work in ways other drugs cannot.

Sally Gaer, whose daughter Margaret was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy early in life, said the drugs administered to combat the disease don’t do much to deter the seizures and bog Margaret down with extreme side effects. She said Margaret, now 24, suffers at least three seizures each week, and she acknowledged her daughter will never lead a normal life.

Gaer said she’s been following cases in other states where there has been experimentation with medical marijuana on patients, and there’s been a steady reduction in the volume of seizures they experience as a result.

“We want the ability to have cannabis as a treatment option for Margaret in Iowa. … This is not something new, and Iowa is way behind,” she said.

Connie Norgart said last year she resorted to smoking marijuana illegally to fight the severe muscle pains and spasms she endured from post-polio syndrome.

“I don’t want to be a criminal for wanting to play a functional role in society and have a quality of life,” she said.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, with Iowa’s neighbor Illinois initiating a medical marijuana program this year.

Dr. Thomas Carlstrom, a retired neurosurgeon, said Iowa needs to align its medical marijuana policies with those other states. He said certain compounds within marijuana can not only help control seizures, but they also prove effective with other diagnoses, such as anorexia, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.

“I think the medical uses for marijuana are absolute,” he said.

A 2010 poll conducted for The Des Moines Register showed that 64 percent of Iowa residents favored legalizing medical marijuana, but Republican lawmakers, who control the state House, showed little interest in the issue this year. Even lawmakers who support medical marijuana legislation have acknowledged it won’t pass this session, but Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, says he hopes to educate lawmakers on its positive uses and hopefully legalize it next year.

“We’ve been wandering in the dark a little bit on this issue, and that’s what we’re doing today,” McCoy said. “We wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk about what potentially could happen if we move forward with this. We view this as something we’ll be back to look at next year.”

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