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On four different occasions in recent years, we've published editorials calling for the legalization of medical marijuana. We are not alone. Our Lee Enterprises sister papers, most recently the Sioux City Journal, have done the same.

For whatever reason — mostly, we suspect, an irrational fear that even strictly controlled access would lead to widespread abuse — such legislation has never passed.

Perhaps this will be the year. Those with any compassion for those suffering from nearly unbearable symptoms should hope so.

We have reason for new optimism. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Thursday that the Senate will move a medical marijuana bill before the end of this session. He agreed to sign off on very narrowly crafted legislation to permit the use of cannabis oil for seizure disorders.

Gronstal and House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said the lobbying efforts of mothers whose children have seizure disorders often associated with epilepsy have kept the issue alive.

"We think there are mothers who have come to the Capitol with tragic stories, difficult circumstances for their kids, who have made a very compelling case that certain elements of marijuana, cannabis oil — nothing to smoke — can dramatically impact the health and welfare of their children," Gronstal said in a story by James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, a contributor to our Globe Gazette Des Moines Bureau.

We commend these mothers for their efforts and urge them and others to keep up the pressure to get relief that should have been available years ago.

Those mothers are not alone, of course. We remember vividly the plea from West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, whose daughter Margaret, 24, has a form of epilepsy treatable with a marijuana extract. As it is now, his family would face felony charges if caught administering the extract. He spoke for many.

Yet, some legislators previously viewed the issue callously, saying Iowans in need of the relief that medical marijuana could provide should move to states where it is available. That is absurd.

Now, though, at too long last, that attitude seems to be softening. While Paulsen said he couldn't guarantee whether the Legislature will act this session, he has encouraged continued dialogue on the issue.

Perhaps that will change more minds, like it did of a major player in the issue, Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield and a former law enforcement officer. He has come out in favor of legalized cannabidiol, a compound in cannabis that has little of the mood-altering THC but greater amounts of the chemical CBD that has medical impact.

Gov. Terry Branstad, who has shied away from approval of medical marijuana, also indicated support for narrowly crafted legislation such as Gronstal gave his blessing to.

There's one more potential roadblock, Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock. Like Gronstal, he would have to sign off to bring the bill to the Senate floor, and has said he would have to read such legislation before deciding whether to do so.

We would hope he'll get the message from Iowans who, in a poll released last month, showed 81 percent of voters support allowing marijuana use for medical purposes.

Because we sympathize with those with diseases that medical marijuana might help, we don't think this cannabis oil measure goes far enough. We trust Iowa's medical community and state officials enough to come up with a system that would help the many people who have chronic pain and other symptoms.

But right now, we'll be thankful for whatever relief victims may get. Legalizing medical marijuana for everyone who needs it is a debate that can wait. We urge lawmakers to not shut down this session without approving this big first step in giving suffering Iowans relief that cannabis oil can provide.

Mason City Globe Gazette

April 13, 2014

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