- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An attempt in the Iowa Legislature to expand medical marijuana access in the state may have reached its end this session with a failed vote in the Republican-controlled House, though some Democrats said Tuesday they would keep pushing the issue in the days before a possible adjournment.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the chamber pointed fingers at each other following a Monday night debate that ultimately shot down a plan that critics said would not have done enough to expand the state’s medical marijuana law, which allows the use of cannabis oil for certain epilepsy patients.

The public criticism highlights the challenges of passing legislation that includes a production system for the drug. At least a few lawmakers have floated around a plan to revive the issue this session through an amendment. Advocates encouraged the chamber to consider such ideas.

“The session is not over,” said Sally Gaer, of West Des Moines, whose 26-year-old daughter uses cannabis oil. “There is a way to fix this, and I call on every member of the House of Representatives to continue to fight.”

The House was considering a comprehensive bill this session that would create a clear system for manufacturing, dispensing and possessing medical marijuana in Iowa. But it hit roadblocks within the Republican Party and stalled.

Some Republican lawmakers instead introduced a proposal Monday that highlighted one aspect of the bill: expanding medical conditions eligible for a medical cannabis card. They tacked it onto a separate, unrelated measure.

Following hours of private meetings and public debate, that proposal failed, 31-63, shortly before midnight.

Republican Rep. Zach Nunn, of Altoona, said it would cost “millions and millions of dollars” to properly set up a manufacturing system in Iowa to serve what he estimated would be less than 800 people.

“It’s not economically viable,” he said.

Advocates say Iowa can have a robust production system. Threase Harms, who leads the lobbying effort for the advocacy group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis, said half a million people could benefit from medical marijuana if their conditions were included in the law.

House Democrats also challenged the legal implications of any out-of-state partnerships that would have been possible under the failed proposal. During debate, several lawmakers mentioned neighboring Minnesota. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Clear Lake Republican, confirmed her office was communicating with lawmakers in that state to possibly hash out a partnership.

Democrats said that would not have made it easier for Iowa residents to access cannabis oil, and it would still make them subject to breaking federal law. It’s the same complaint lodged against the state law passed in 2014.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Wilton Republican, said the chances of passing a comprehensive medical marijuana bill this session are slim given the limited action left before adjournment. He criticized House Democrats for not supporting a bill he said would have made improvements.

“We all know the Legislature sometimes acts incrementally,” he said. “The bottom line is that (Monday) night we had an opportunity.”

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