Iowa Lawmakers Fast-Track Medical Marijuana Expansion Ahead Of Statehouse Deadline

Mar 6, 2019

A bill that would expand Iowa's medical marijuana program is being fast-tracked by some House members ahead of a key statehouse deadline.

Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said the bill is a good step in the right direction, and comes in response to issues brought up with the current law.

“This is the art of what’s possible, not always getting a perfect bill,” Klein said. “I’m not going to make perfect the enemy of good. If we can get a good bill we compromise on and get to the governor, I want to do that.”

Klein, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, led a three-member panel in advancing the bill Wednesday morning. The bill is scheduled for a second vote Thursday.

Iowa's first medical marijuana dispensaries opened December 1, 2018.

The bill removes the 3 percent cap on THC content in medical marijuana products. Instead, the bill would limit a patient to 20 grams of THC over a 90-day period.

Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, said that would help provide more relief for patients.

“Right now some patients would maybe have to take 10 or 20 capsules a day, and that’s cost prohibitive because this isn’t covered by insurance,” Forbes said. “And so this would make it more economical for more patients to be able to afford the drug.”

Forbes and some other House Democrats said they would like to see the cap lifted to 90 grams of THC over a 90-day period.

The bill allows physician assistants and advanced registered nurse practitioners to certify qualifying conditions for patients seeking medical marijuana. It also replaces current language that “untreatable pain” is a qualifying condition with “severe or chronic pain.”

In addition, it would allow some felons to obtain medical marijuana.

Klein said he is “fairly confident” the bill will advance out of the full committee Thursday.

He said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, has been involved in conversations about the bill. She has said lawmakers should wait for recommendations from the state advisory board that was appointed to consider medical marijuana issues before expanding the program.

House Republicans have been less willing than Senate Republicans to try to expand medical marijuana laws.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a similar bill Tuesday that is more expansive than Klein’s proposal.

It would add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition, and allows health care providers to approve patients to apply for a medical marijuana card for any other condition if the provider determines medical marijuana would be medically beneficial. It also allows medical marijuana manufacturers to deliver products to patients.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said the goal is to make this “natural miracle drug” available to people who have debilitating diseases.

“The good news is there are conversations in the House about an expansion, and I’m very happy about that,” Zaun said.

Zaun also said this effort "has nothing to do with" legalizing marijuana for recreational use.