DES MOINES - Though the prospect of legalizing medical marijuana in Iowa is dead for this session, lawmakers continued to raise awareness about the drug's possible benefits Monday.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, invited current and former Iowa residents to the Capitol for a news conference to share how marijuana has helped them and explain why they've left or are considering leaving the state for ones that have legal or medical pot.
Rachael Selmeski, a mother from Waterloo, said she felt hopeless when her epileptic daughter wasn't responding to various anti-seizure medicines, so she uprooted her family to Colorado to take advantage of medical marijuana. Selmeski said the intensity and frequency of her daughter's seizures has diminished since using the drug.
"These other children deserve the same chance at life," she said.
Bolkcom introduced legislation earlier this session to legalize the substance for medical purporses, but the bill failed to meet a legislative deadline in February.
Logan Edwards, a Marine Corps veteran from Davenport suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, said he plans to move to Colorado, too. When therapy and prescription drugs didn't provide him relief, he began using marijuana illegally, which he says turned his life around.
"Everything in my life is better from me using cannabis," said Edwards. "It's unfortunate that it's illegal."
And Don Karr, a Vietnam veteran also struggling with PTSD, said he's turned to smoking marijuana to combat his anxiety.
While he said he has no plans to leave Iowa to get the treatment he thinks he needs, Karr said he endures a constant inner battle between his fear of being caught purchasing or using marijuana illegally and his desire to feel better.
"Which anxiety is the worst: The anxiety of doing something illegal when you've never been to prison or jail ... or the anxiety of the PTSD?" he said. "It's an unbelievable battle."
Bolkcom said hearing the stories from Iowa residents who have been directly involved with medical marijuana moves debate on the subject forward, and other Democratic lawmakers have said the stories will educate lawmakers should they move to legalize it next year.
"I think our work is continuing to try to tell the story of why we need to act," Bolkcom said.
Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has said he empathizes with those suffering from illnesses who believe they would benefit from using marijuana for medical purposes, but fears there would be unintended consequences to its legalization. During a news conference in early March, Branstad said more study is needed before seriously considering such legislation.
A Quinnipiac University poll shows 81 percent of Iowans support medical marijuana legalization. The poll, conducted March 5-10, talked to 1,411 registered voters across the state. Its margin of error was plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
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