- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A plan to expand access to medical marijuana in Iowa moved forward in the Senate on Thursday, though it’s unlikely to find support in the Republican-controlled House.

The legislation would make medical marijuana available to people with certain chronic diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Those approved by a doctor could then purchase marijuana products produced in Iowa at state-run dispensaries.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a bill on Thursday. Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said he was hopeful the bill could find support in the full Senate.

“This legislation is really brought to us by patients. They’ve shown great courage to come here and try to convince us to do something that’s really had to do,” he said.

Last year, the Legislature approved a law that allows some residents with epilepsy to use oil with an ingredient derived from marijuana for treatment. But the law did not establish an in-state program for the production and distribution of the oil. As a result, critics say, the law is effectively useless.

Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, of Hiawatha, said he did not “believe the General Assembly will do anything with medical marijuana this year.”

Still, Sally Gaer, whose 25-year-old daughter has a severe epileptic condition, expressed optimism. She noted that the more limited bill last year was also viewed as a long shot. Gaer is part of a group of advocates that has been lobbying lawmakers to consider a medical marijuana program.

“I think all of the legislators need to become more educated,” said Gaer, 54. “We’re not stopping. This is the right thing for Iowa.”

A recent poll in the Des Moines Register showed that 70 percent of adults support legalizing medical marijuana. The telephone poll of 807 adults was conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines between Feb. 15 and Feb. 18. It had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

A total of 23 states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive medical marijuana programs and 11 others offer more limited access to some cannabis products, according to the National Conference for State Legislatures.

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