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Democrats Call On Iowa Legislature To Reconvene And Overturn Medical Marijuana Veto

marijuana plants
Katarina Sostaric
IPR file
Cannabis plants are grown at MedPharm, one of Iowa's two medical marijuana manufacturers.

This story was originally published May 29, 2019. 

Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature to return to the Statehouse to overturn the governor’s veto of a bill that would have expanded the state’s medical marijuana program.

Two-thirds of Iowa legislators would have to sign onto a letter to reconvene for a special session. The bill would then need a two-thirds vote to pass.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Wednesday the high cost for patients to purchase large amounts of less potent medical marijuana under the current law will drive them to seek opioids and illegal marijuana for pain relief.

“There is no reason to wait until next year to help the people that are suffering,” Bolkcom said. “By overriding the veto, the legislature can immediately help thousands of sick, vulnerable Iowans. Legislators should stand by their votes, stand by the patients we all want to help, and put their welfare ahead of party and politics.”

It’s unlikely Republicans will agree to convene a special session, but Bolkcom said he hopes Iowans will reach out to their representatives and senators and ask them to return to the Statehouse.

The bill that passed with wide bipartisan support would have allowed for much more potent medical marijuana products at Iowa’s five dispensaries. Republicans and Democrats expressed disappointment that Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed the bill late last week.

Current law caps THC, the chemical that makes people feel high, at 3 percent in individual medical marijuana products. There’s no limit on how many of those products individuals in the program can purchase. The bill would have replaced that cap with a per-patient limit of 25 grams of THC over 90 days, with no limit on THC in individual products.

Reynolds told reporters she vetoed the bill because she thought it went too far.

“I have to balance the health and safety of all Iowans with a program that’s providing some alternatives to individuals who feel it’s making a difference,” Reynolds said. “And I have heard stories of the difference that it does make.”

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill, but some House Republicans later changed their minds when they found out the state board tasked with advising the legislature on medical marijuana issues recommended a lower THC limit.

“When that legislation first passed the House, it was done so based on what we now know was conflicting information,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, in a statement. “While there were many good things in the bill, I don’t know if it has the consensus necessary at this point to override a veto, so a special session would be ill-advised.”

The bill would have allowed physician assistants and nurse practitioners to also certify patients’ health conditions to allow them to apply for medical marijuana cards. And it created a THC limit waiver for patients with a one-year life expectancy due to terminal illness.

Reynolds and Republican Statehouse leaders said they will work on a new medical marijuana bill for consideration during the 2020 legislative session.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter