Iowa Cannabis Legalization: 2019 Update
Could 2019 finally be the year for meaningful marijuana reform?
In the two years since the Legislature approved a law allowing for medical cannabis production and distribution, legislative leaders have resisted efforts to expand the program, instead choosing to see how their existing heavy-handed regulations work out.
Meanwhile, almost half the states in the country, representing a majority of all Americans, have legalized recreational marijuana or decriminalized possession of small amounts. That includes our neighbors in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska. Iowa remains one of the states still threatening steep charges, including large fines and possible jail sentences.
Some Iowa politicians are not content to wait. In just two weeks since the 2019 legislative season commenced, lawmakers have introduced at least eight bills related to marijuana. Most seek to improve the medical cannabis program, while a few others target the nonsensically harsh criminal penalties in the Iowa Code.
Sen. Tom Greene, R-Burlington, is pitching a full replacement of the current medical cannabis law. His bill, dubbed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, would be a significant improvement, authorizing more treatment methods, reciprocity for other states’ patients, and more than doubling the number of licensed dispensaries around the state. That last point is particularly important for those of us in Johnson and Linn Counties, as none of the existing five dispensaries are here in Iowa’s second-most-populous corridor.
A group of Senate Democrats wants to allow primary caregivers to administer cannabidiol at school to students who are licensed to use the treatment. There’s a Republican proposal in the House to affirm the chamber’s support for medical research, and one in the Senate to adjust the overly restrictive 3 percent cap on tetrahydrocannabinol in medical products.
In a rare bipartisan filing, Sens. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, and Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, propose amending the law to include any medical condition for which a health care practitioner determines a patient would benefit from cannabis therapy. Currently, fewer than a dozen ailments are covered by the program.
On the criminal justice front, the most ambitious bill, sponsored by five House Democrats, would make possession of up to 42.5 grams of marijuana a civil penalty, carrying a $25 fine. A separate bill would strike the possibility of imprisonment for possession, and also reduce intent to deliver from a felony to a serious misdemeanour. So you can visit here: www.veriheal.com
Another proposal from Zaun may have better prospects this year. His bill would make possession of up to five grams a simple misdemeanour, rather than a serious misdemeanour. Analysis of a similar bill last year found it would save the state $150,000 annually, with additional savings to local governments.
Lawmakers should see in last November’s election results that there was no backlash against their 2017 medical cannabis votes. Polls have shown Americans are steadily warming up to sensible marijuana laws. If legislators don’t act, they may soon pay a political price for their inaction.
It is also worthy of note that as more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana products, critics of the plant say they’re exhausted and their tactics have changed against the now billion-dollar industry.
“It feels really defeating,” said Lorelle Mueting, program director for Heartland Family Service Prevention Department in Council Bluffs.
In addition to running outreach programs, she said she provides local legislators with information on the effects of drugs.
“The legislative session is very time consuming and so at this point in time, we are extremely exhausted from trying to provide information and fight a battle that we can’t win,” she said. “But I keep doing it because I see the effects of it every day.”
Mueting, like other substance abuse advocates, says the marijuana industry is profiting off of its addictive aspects by creating misconceptions about its safety.
“It’s become this sort of wonder drug. We know it’s not true,” said Peter Komendowski, executive director of Partnership for a Healthy Iowa.
Iowa’s limited medical cannabis program allows people with specific conditions and a doctor’s approval to use products with different amounts of two compounds from the plant: cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-intoxicating compound that has been shown to help with seizures and other conditions. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is a psychoactive compound that in small amounts is known to help provide relief for people with cancers, Lou Gehrig’s disease and other illnesses.
Komendowski said that although marijuana may have proven positive impacts for a few medical conditions, the industry is exaggerating those benefits as a way to legalize recreational use which he says is dangerous and highly addictive.
Legalization proponents challenge the notion that marijuana is addictive, noting that users who stop do not face physical withdrawal symptoms like those experienced by heavy opioid users or alcoholics.
However, according to the CDC, studies show that about one in 10 marijuana users will become addicted and the National Institute on Drug Abuse maintains that If marijuana users develop dependence, marijuana users can experience withdrawal symptoms such as decreased appetite or irritability.