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Iowa’s Already-Restrictive Medical Marijuana Program Will Expire July 1 if Lawmakers Don’t Act

With Iowa’s limited cannabidiol oil law set to expire in months, some lawmakers are hoping to expand the state’s medical cannabis program to be more comprehensive.

Iowa’s limited medical cannabis law is set to expire in July, putting pressure on state lawmakers to make a move early in the 2017 session. Without the Iowa Legislature taking action, over 100 people diagnosed with epilepsy and currently participating in the state’s program will lose legal access to cannabis oil.

“We’re kind of under the gun right now, and we need to act,” Rep. John Forbes (D-Urbandale) told the Des Moines Register. “The people that are currently accessing the medication will be breaking Iowa law as of July 1, and we can’t allow that to happen.”

Some cannabis advocates and lawmakers are hoping to use the opportunity for the state to establish a more comprehensive medical marijuana program.

The medicinal cannabis law that the state has in place right now is highly restrictive. Passed in 2014, Iowa Code 124D allows qualified patients to possess cannabidiol (CBD) oil containing no more than 3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Unfortunately, the program only qualifies patients diagnosed with epilepsy. Also, a separate law in place makes it illegal to manufacture or distribute cannabis oil in Iowa, and federal law prohibits its transportation across state lines.

The law offers little additional benefits to the people of Iowa. CBD oil derived from hemp, rather than marijuana, is exempt from the federal Controlled Substances Act and already legal to purchase and use in all 50 U.S. states.

According to the latest data provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health, the state issued just 115 medical cannabidiol applications last year.

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Republican lawmakers sought to address the issue in the final weeks of the 2016 legislative session, but made no progress. Rep. Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) proposed a bill that would allow for the production and distribution of cannabis oil, but it hit a wall in the House Ways and Means Committee. A second bill that would allow Iowans to access cannabis oil in other states and carry it back to Iowa was voted down in the House.

Rep. Clel Baudler (R-Greenfeld) told the Des Moines Register that he plans to introduce a bill – similar to the one rejected last year — that would allow for the cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis oil. The plan would allow Iowans to obtain a permit to grow and distribute cannabis containing no more than 3.5 percent THC. Advertising medical cannabis products would be prohibited and the law would establish regulations regarding the security of facilities and product transportation.

“Last year there was a hodgepodge of panic, if you will, in my caucus to do something. Well if we’re going to do something, let’s do something smart,” said Baudler. “If these people want it grown in Iowa, processed in Iowa, I think we can make that happen.”

Baudler’s proposal would also likely expand the program to more conditions outside of epilepsy, but he has yet to define what those conditions would be.

“Somebody smarter than me would have to tell us which disease or condition medical marijuana extract could be used for,” Baulder said. “Don’t tell me, ‘Well I’ve seen it on the internet.’ I’ve seen horses talk and nuns fly on the internet.”

Medical Marijuana Research

The Sioux City Journal recently published an editorial through The Cannabist urging the Iowa Legislature to avoid allowing the current limited law from expiring and pass more comprehensive medical marijuana program.

“Because we do not wish to see the state take a step back in this area, we encourage the Legislature this year to, at a minimum, extend the 2014 legislation and include production and distribution,” the editorial read.

Twenty-eight states have so far passed comprehensive medical marijuana laws. A poll conducted by the Des Moines Register in March 2016 found that 78 percent of Iowans are in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

Learn more about cannabis laws throughout the U.S. by visiting our education page