As it currently stands in Iowa, the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is so limited and constrained that it’s hard to imagine it even being helpful. Iowans with a specific form of epilepsy are allowed to use it to treat their symptoms; however, it’s a catch 22. Even with a physician’s prescription, medical marijuana is illegal to grow, manufacture, or distribute within Iowa. To top it off, crossing states lines with cannabis is a federal offense. In essence, patients using cannabis for medicinal purposes legally are only able to obtain it illegally. What has been frustrating from the beginning for people who need cannabis to treat their health conditions and politicians alike is how to proceed in finding a solution to the confusion. On Saturday, April 22nd, lawmakers made a deal to expand their medical marijuana program. It will need to be approved by the state’s governor, Terry Branstad. But even if it’s approved, will the Iowa medical cannabis expansion approved by lawmakers really help?
The Current Law
The Medical Cannabidiol Act went into effect July 1st, 2014. Probably one of the most stringent laws enacted in any of the states that allow cannabis for medicinal use, only people diagnosed with intractable epilepsy are allowed to use it. In addition to this, they are only allowed to use the non-psychoactive form, CBD, as an oil. While the law may protect patients and caregivers from prosecution, it has clearly neglected the legalities involved with obtaining the medicine. It also strictly limits the dosage and use of it.
Despite the “protection” of the law, patients and/or caregivers who wish to obtain medicine have to do so illegally. It’s currently illegal to produce or manufacture CBD oil in Iowa. This is where the “protection” that’s offered falls flat. Procuring the oil involves crossing state lines, which is a felony. So despite it being lawful to possess with the proper paperwork, caregivers and patients have to face the fact that breaking federal law is their only way of obtaining it.
In the eyes of those who need it and those of many lawmakers, the law is an epic fail.
The Proposed Changes
Recognizing that the current law does not address the issues of how to obtain medicinal cannabis and allowing its use for other medical conditions that it’s known to help, lawmakers passed a bill in the wee morning hours of Saturday, April 22nd in hopes of expanding the program. Democrats and Republicans alike both acknowledged the need for the expansion and for more specific guidelines. Democrat Representative John Forbes, a retired pharmacist, pointed out that cannabis can potentially help very sick people who otherwise don’t always benefit from pharmaceutical medications. Republican Representative, Jarad Klein, concurs, adding that there are too many sick people in the state of Iowa who are missing out on its beneficial relief.
Included in the new proposal, 15 more medical conditions would be allowed to be treated with medicinal cannabis. While this is a big jump from the current law, it’s still quite restrained in comparison to other states, like Michigan, where the list of qualifying conditions is quite extensive. However, the Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board that will have to be established in the Department of Public Health would be able to add other qualifying conditions to the list over time. They would also be able to recommend raising the 3 percent THC limit that is currently allowed in medicinal oil.
The new proposal also addresses the fact that Iowans have no way of legally obtaining their medicine under the current law. If it’s signed into law, the Department of Public Health would be allowed to choose up to two manufacturers and five distributors. They would legally be able to produce and sell cannabis oil, so long as it contains no more than 3 percent THC. In order to legally obtain the medicine, patients would require the approval of an Iowa-licensed physician.
This new proposal is a narrower view of the proposal that was passed earlier in the week by the Senate. Having passed with a wide margin of 45-5 just days before it was sized-down by Republicans in the House, it would have included more medical conditions that could be treated with cannabis. It also would have done away with the 3 percent cap on the THC level, which some politicians feel robs very sick patients of the true extent of the medicines potential for relief.
The fate of this proposal is uncertain and awaits the approval of Governor Terry Branstad. If he signs it, it will go into effect immediately. While not the proposal that the people of Iowa and many of its lawmakers were hoping for, it at least addresses the failure of the current law and provides some progressive measures. However, with the restrictions that will remain in place, like cannabis only being allowed in oil form, Iowa has a long way to go to catch up with the numerous other states that have adopted more generous legislation in regards to medical marijuana.