Advocates of a more comprehensive medical cannabis law in Iowa continue to push to make it a top legislative priority, and some who are enrolled in the program say it needs to be expanded.
On a typical morning at the Iowa Cannabis Company dispensary in Waterloo, staff members are taking phone calls, doing inventory and filling prescriptions. The Waterloo location is one of five licensed in the state and the second busiest.
Assistant manager Shannon Cretsinger explained that the 300 hundred or so patients they serve have all been issued registration cards from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
"So CBD and THC are both components of the cannabis plant. CBD is going to be good for seizures, tremors, migraines as well as depression and anxiety," she said. "It’s the non-mind altering component of the cannabis plant and then THC on the other hand that is the mind altering effect that causes the psycho activity but THC is also great for pain, sleep nausea."
Dispensary manager Nick Manela said it’s that “mind altering” language that sometimes prevents clients from getting the best treatment because most don’t realize none of the products provided are smokeable.
"They stay with a product that’s not really for their condition just because of the misconceptions of THC and what it could do to them," he said. "People think they’re going to take this product and turn into a druggie. People take this product every day and we’ve seen it transform lives so that’s always a big hurdle for us to get people to understand."
Statewide, medical cannabis dispensaries in Windsor Heights, Davenport, Sioux
City, Council Bluffs and the one in Waterloo serve more than 3,000 people.
One of the patients who says his life has been transformed is Bill Wells of Marion. The 55-year-old information security analyst has asthma, he’s a diabetic and has kidney disease.
"As I take the THC the weight goes down, with me being clinically obese that makes it challenging to do some things just physically that I’m now able to do that I really couldn’t," he said. "Simple example, I’m ok with climbing the stairs more than once a day."
54-year-old Leigh Ann Lyons of Waterloo has worked for 17 years helping build tractors for Deere and Company. She has lupus and when she suffered a broken arm, narcotics were not an option. She admitted suicide crossed her mind.
"I was in so much pain and that’s adding all the other diseases on top of that I was at a point of no return I was like why, why do I want to be on this earth?" she remembered.
Lyons said before using medical marijuana, her days were filled with questions including.
"How can I get out of pain today am I going to have enough pills because the doctor didn’t prescribe me enough, or am I going to be sick and where is the nearest rest room?" she said. "I have none of that now...none."
Bill Wells admitted he was skeptical about using the capsules and cream until his doctor suggested them.
"This doesn’t take rocket science, you put two drugs in front of me and say both these take care of pain , here’s the side effects and the benefits, pros and con, opioids aren’t even in the conversation and yet political ideology gets in the way of moving this process forward,” he added.
As uplifting as these stories are, there are hundreds of Iowans whose conditions don’t quality for medical cannabis, they can’t afford it, are unable to find a doctor who recommends it or insurance simply won’t cover it.
A bill that would have increased the amount of THC, the psychoactive component of medical cannabis passed overwhelmingly in both the Iowa House and Senate this year but it was vetoed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Legislative leaders have said medical marijuana legislation will be at the forefront of the 2020 session.