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Democrats Call For Medical Cannabis Expansion In Iowa's 2020 Legislative Session

marijuana plants
Katarina Sostaric
IPR file
Cannabis plants at MedPharm Iowa, one of the state's two medical cannabis manufacturers.

Two Democratic lawmakers said Friday Iowa’s medical cannabis program could be at risk if the state doesn’t expand it as Illinois prepares to legalize recreational marijuana in 2020.

Earlier this year, Iowa Republicans and Democrats voted to pass a bill that would allow dispensaries to sell more potent medical cannabis products. It also would’ve expanded the number of health care providers who are eligible to certify medical conditions for Iowans applying for medical cannabis cards.

But Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed the bill, saying the proposed limit on THC (the chemical that makes cannabis users high) was not strict enough.

Iowa’s medical cannabis advisory board is recommending a lower THC limit than the bill, citing concerns about THC use potentially having negative health effects.

But Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said it doesn’t make sense to consider that proposal.

“On January 1, Iowa patients will have a short drive over to Illinois, where they’ll be able to buy cheaper medicine, and they’ll be able to buy medicine that is more effective,” Bolkcom said.

Bolkcom said lawmakers should pass a bill allowing each patient up to 25 grams of THC over 90 days, which is what passed during the 2019 legislative session.

The medical cannabis advisory board is recommending a limit of 4.5 grams of THC over 90 days.

Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, is a pharmacist. He said that lower limit could force some of his patients out of Iowa’s medical cannabis program.

“These patients that are now pretty much off opioid medications and are on medical cannabis—and I have one patient I know of went completely off her opioids when she switched to medical cannabis—will now have to go back on opioids to control their severe pain,” he said.

Bolkcom said people leaving Iowa’s medical cannabis program—for opioids or for Illinois—could also pose a financial threat to the two cannabis manufacturers in the state.

Bolkcom and Forbes said Republican leaders should focus on changing medical cannabis laws when the legislature convenes Jan. 13, 2020.

Republican lawmakers have said they want to work on this issue.

Democrats want more medical conditions to qualify patients for the medical cannabis program and to find a way to lower the cost of medical cannabis products. They want to allow for more dispensaries; Iowa currently has five. Bolkcom said patients should be included on the medical cannabis advisory board, the cost to apply for a medical card should be lowered, and the patients should not have to go through the Department of Transportation to get their medical card.

Forbes and Bolkcom said they want to meet with the governor to discuss medical cannabis. Forbes said he asked for a meeting in the spring, and did not get one.

“Gov. Reynolds looks forward to working with lawmakers and the medical cannabidiol board next year to build on Iowa’s current program,” said Pat Garrett, a spokesman for the governor’s office. “She is always willing to set aside time and meet with lawmakers in both parties about their priorities.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter