Once again, our community’s state line perch provides valuable insight into governance.
On this issue of marijuana, we see side-by-side state legislators acting differently.
Iowa law allows only one form of medicinal marijuana, a non-intoxicating extract found to be effective for a form of epilepsy. But the law approved in 2014 is written so that the handful of eligible patients have no way to get or transport it.
The Iowa Senate earlier this month approved legislation expanding medicinal marijuana for several other conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and some other chronic conditions. The bill would permit up to four growers to be regulated by the state to sell marijuana through independent dispensaries.
But House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he will not permit a House vote on the bill, effectively leaving Iowa as a state with medicinal marijuana in name only.
Across the river in Illinois, medicinal marijuana rules are in place. Grower and dispensary licenses have been issued, and medical marijuana is about a year away.
Side-by-side states demonstrate significantly different approaches to the same subject. So we’d expect each state’s residents would regard medical marijuana differently as well.
Except they don’t.
Polls in both states show strong, consistent and growing support for medical marijuana. Those polls show even more support in Iowa.
A Feb. 14 poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found 63 percent of Illinois respondents either favor or strongly favor medical marijuana.
In Iowa, a Feb. 27 Iowa Poll showed 70 percent support legalizing medicinal use. Support grew 11 percentage points over the Iowa Poll’s 2014 results.
An April 14 Quinnipiac University poll found better than 80 percent of Iowans support medicinal marijuana laws. That’s about the same results the university found in Iowa in 2014.
This year’s Quinnipiac University poll also asked voters from other swing states about medicinal marijuana.
“Voters in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia often disagree about the big issues of the day — taxes, government spending, gay marriage and abortion,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll. “Yet there is one thing that they pretty much agree upon across state lines — medicinal pot.
Iowa lawmakers have yet to get that message.
Voters who seem to overwhelmingly agree on medicinal marijuana now need to convince their legislators. Perhaps some lawmakers fear being perceived as soft on crime. Or maybe they simply can’t distinguish between recreational and medicinal uses.
For the majority of Iowans easily discerning the difference, their lawmakers’ fear of medicinal marijuana must seem innately cruel. These lawmakers have heard testimony from epileptic Iowans desperate for the relief they’ve experienced when traveling out of state to try non-intoxicating cannabinoid extracts. Lawmakers also heard from Iowans who found that smoking marijuana provided relief from cancer symptoms and many other disorders. These aren’t drug-addled dupes trying to game the system. These are sick Iowans seeking help.
The patients are ready. Polls say Iowans – like Illinoisans – are ready. But unlike Illinoisans, Iowans still are waiting for their lawmakers to figure it out.