With Iowa’s limited medical cannabis laws set to expire in July, state legislators and medical marijuana advocates say they see an opportunity to rewrite a more comprehensive set of rules when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, said he plans to propose a bill that would allow for the production and distribution of medical cannabis oil in Iowa – something many other Republicans previously have opposed.

“Last year there was a hodgepodge of panic, if you will, in my caucus to do something. Well if we’re going to do something, let’s do something smart,” Baudler said. “If these people want it grown in Iowa, processed in Iowa, I think we can make that happen.”

The Legislature passed a law in 2014 that allows Iowans to possess cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy. However, a separate law currently makes it illegal to manufacture or distribute that oil in the state, and federal law prohibits its transportation across state lines. In practice, that makes it illegal for Iowans to obtain the product.

The 2014 law is scheduled to sunset in July 2017, giving legislators a deadline for action.

“We’re kind of under the gun right now, and we need to act,” said Rep. John Forbes, a Democrat from Urbandale who has advocated for expanded access to medical marijuana. “The people that are currently accessing the medication will be breaking Iowa law as of July 1, and we can’t allow that to happen.”

Scramble during 2016 session

There was a flurry of activity during the final weeks of the 2016 legislative session as Republican lawmakers sought to address the issue, but the caucus remained divided throughout the process and ultimately failed to pass legislation.

Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, proposed a bill that would have allowed the state to produce and distribute cannabis oil. It stalled in the House Ways and Means Committee where Chairman Tom Sands, R-Wapello, was in opposition.

Sands retired at the end of the 2016 session and has been replaced as chairman by Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, who has been more supportive of expanding access to cannabis oil.

The House last year defeated a second proposal that would have allowed Iowans with certain debilitating diseases to access the oil in other states and bring it back to Iowa. Democrats were sharply critical of that bill for requiring patients and their families to continue to break federal law by crossing state lines with the product. The measure was voted down.

New Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said Democrats have generally been supportive of expanding access to medical cannabis and he is hopeful Baudler’s proposal will open the door for continued conversations.

“We’re willing to look at what they’ve proposed, and if we can play a constructive, positive role in that, we will,” he said.

Baudler’s plan would allow Iowans to obtain a permit to grow marijuana with a tetrahydrocannabinol content of less than 3.5 percent. (THC is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychoactive effects.) He said the bill would prohibit the advertisement of the product, and it would regulate secure facilities and transportation of the product, among other things.

“Somebody smarter than me would have to tell us which disease or condition medical marijuana extract could be used for,” Baudler said. “Don’t tell me, ‘Well I’ve seen it on the internet.’ I’ve seen horses talk and nuns fly on the internet.”

Threase Harms, who lobbies on behalf of the Epilepsy Foundation and the upper Midwest chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said those organizations continue to support access to medical marijuana beyond just cannabis oil. But she said they’ll continue to try to educate lawmakers about the issue to build broader support for the issue.

“We’re going to continue to work with legislators who have been avid supporters of ours as well as leadership to move this along, to see if we can find some language, some legislation they’re comfortable with that meets the needs of the patients we’re trying to help,” she said.

Federal law complicates issue

But regardless of what state lawmakers do, they still must keep one eye on the federal government.

The Obama administration announced in 2013 it would not challenge state laws that allow for the medical and recreational use of marijuana, though they currently violate federal law.

President-elect Donald Trump, a Republican, has not indicated whether he would maintain that same approach. He picked Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a vocal opponent of medical marijuana, as attorney general in the last few weeks.

Republicans now have a supermajority in the Iowa Legislature after gaining seats in both the House and Senate on Election Day. They no longer need buy-in from Democrats to pass legislation, though Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, expressed hope that this may be an issue where members of both parties can find common ground.

“I think this shows there is a continually evolving perception about what’s within the realm of the possible,” he said.

A March 2016 Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed 78 percent of Iowans favor allowing people to use marijuana as medicine, up from 58 percent in 2013.

High-profile leaders across the state have spoken out in support of legislative action, including Christian conservative president of The Family Leader, Bob Vander Plaats and more than 90 area business leaders.

Republican Gov. Terry Branstad also has indicated he would be willing to consider allowing the production of medical cannabis in Iowa while focusing on limiting any “unintended consequences.”

“If it’s just limited to the oil, that might be something that could be looked at,” he said at the end of the 2016 session. “I’ll keep an open mind.”

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker 420 MAGAZINE ®
Full Article: Medical Cannabis Could See Movement In Iowa
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