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Iowa Expands MMJ Law and Looks to Import from Minnesota

As individual states write their own cannabis laws, it creates a spectrum of legislation that fully legalizes cannabis in one state, but can make it next to impossible to obtain in another state.

Iowa has legalized medical marijuana for a small number of patients, and on Friday Governor Terry Branstad signed House File 524, which expanded the program to a larger number of patients. Instead of waiting for an industry to form, Iowa lawmakers are attempting to partner with Minnesota’s medical marijuana industry, which is currently suffering from a lack of eligible patients.

“It’s providing access to Iowans and doing it as quickly as we can,”

said Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.

“I just want to be sure if we have a tough time finding a grower, we have another source available. It all just fits together.”

When a state creates a medical marijuana program for a narrow group of patients, finding growers and manufacturers willing to take the risk on a small market can take years. Minnesota is one such state. “One of the problems that we have had here is that the manufacturers … have a limited number of customers, and it may become difficult to sustain their business,” said Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt. “It may be helpful to our manufactures and ultimately to our jobs and economy here in Minnesota. I think it could be a mutually beneficial thing.”

This type of arrangement would be the first of its kind. Marijuana legislation at the state level has largely been able to dodge federal interference by keeping cannabis within the state’s borders. There are a few states that have medical marijuana reciprocity, a policy that welcomes medical marijuana patients from other states into their own program.

A law that would explicitly create a marijuana commerce relationship between two states could interfere with federal drug trafficking laws. “We’d certainly want to make sure people were aware of the risk,” said Michelle Larson, who operates Minnesota’s Office of Medical Cannabis. Minnesota state officials have not yet participated in Upmeyer and Daudt’s plan, which would include incorporating Iowa patients into Minnesota’s medical marijuana patient registry.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been particularly critical about medical marijuana, and has recently called upon federal prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties possible for drug crime, signalling a return to ineffective and unjust sentencing guidelines. Just as politicians from Colorado have done, Upmeyer will attempt to meet with Sessions to gauge how the Justice Department might handle the situation.

Iowa Struggles to Build a Path for Medical Marijuana

Iowa Struggles to Build a Path for Medical Marijuana

Proponents for the use of cannabidiol (CBD) as a treatment for epilepsy and many other conditions in Iowa may get some help from the federal government. U.S. lawmaker and chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is interested in finding ways to generate more research into the medical possibilities and effects of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD).

Iowa lawmakers denied progress for the state’s medical marijuana program earlier this year when it upheld a ban on the production and distribution of high-CBD medical cannabis within the state. Greeley recently held a meeting to discuss the issue of expanded research.

Federal research thus far has been limited, but studies show that cannabidiol can not only relieve spasms and anxiety, it also reduces inflammation and inhibits tumor growth. The Republican senator has received much correspondence from frustrated constituents who are legally allowed to possess CBD but cannot obtain it.

Greeley held the hearing in response to concerns raised by both members of the public and state lawmakers who have suggested that the path to more research is through a removing cannabis from the current Schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act. The senator is encouraged by a move by the Food and Drug Administration to remove one layer of review for cannabidiol research. Greeley said,

“I think our hearing and the letters that we got answered from (the Drug Enforcement Administration) as well as (Health and Human Services) show that you can do research without having to reschedule.”

Grassley, in cooperation with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, plans to keep the issue on the table.

The Iowa state government recently faced additional scrutiny regarding its limited medical marijuana program when it was reported that the price tag for 50 medical CBD cards came to $115,000. The commission to make the cards went to the Massachusetts company MorphoTrust USA. The cards were paid for from the state general fund. Melissa Spiegel, an Iowa Department of Transportation spokesperson, defended the amount as reasonable.

The cards were approved in 2014, and the application process began in January 2015. The card program has already come under fire for being difficult to maneuver and largely ineffective. The approval process can be lengthy and complex. For many Iowans who seek the benefits of CBD, difficult access and questionable legality continue to keep treatment out of reach.

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