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.
This post was originally published on May 19, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.