Bishop Richard Pates, an influential leader of over 100,000 Catholics, is urging Iowa lawmakers to approve a comprehensive bill legalizing medical marijuana.

“I believe now is the time to help suffering Iowans and their families get access to this medicine,” Pates said in a recent letter, reported the Des Moines Register.

In 2014, the Iowa legislature voted to legalize cannabis oil for certain patients suffering from seizures, but they have no place to buy it.

Debates are ongoing about expanding the list of ailments and allowing patients to transport cannabis oil from other states, raising the thorny issue of transporting it across state lines.

Bishop Pates, the Iowa Catholic Conference was quick to point out, was expressing his personal support for humanitarian reasons.

State Representative Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) said he expected support for medical marijuana to grow.

“As people get comfortable with it, as they learn more, you gain support,” Cownie said, adding that a key holdup is that House members don’t want marijuana growing in their state.

Unsurprisingly, elected leaders are out of step with their constituents.

Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll conducted in February showed that 78 percent of Iowa’s adults are in favor of medical marijuana, up from 58 percent three years ago.

Joe Bolkcom, Senate Majority Whip, is pushing for a bill that would allow Iowans to obtain MMJ for illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s, PTSD and other chronic and debilitating ailments, as well as allow pot to be grown and legally distributed in Iowa.

“It is sad we are in a place where we are telling sick and vulnerable Iowans to go to another state to get critical health care they need,” Bolkcom told The Des Moines Register.

To date, Catholic bishops in the U.S., of which there are 272 including four archbishops, have not taken a position on the medical marijuana debate or legalization, according to Catholic News Service.

It seems Iowa’s Bishop Pates is the first.

No word yet from Pope Francis who has spoken against legalization. However, last fall in his address to Congress, Pope Francis said “just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation,” reported the Huffington Post

Some believe sentencing reform and legalization ultimately go together. Tantum sperare possumus. We can only hope.