DES MOINES — A proposal to expand Iowa’s limited medical cannabis law, offered by Republicans in charge of the Iowa House, was voted down late Monday.
During roughly three hours of debate, Democrats said the proposal did not do nearly enough to help ailing Iowans, and some Republicans said they remain opposed to any legislation that legalizes medicinal cannabis.
The final vote, taken at just before 11 p.m., defeated the measure, 61-36, with six members absent or not voting.
The House Republican proposal would have expanded the number of ailments Iowans could treat with cannabidiol, a medicinal byproduct of the marijuana plant, and would have permitted Iowans to obtain cannabidiol from states that produce and sell the product.
But opponents of the bill said it provided no immediate help for Iowans who seek cannabidiol to ease the suffering of themselves or loved ones from ailments such as epilepsy and cancer.
“This bill at the end of the day is going to do absolutely nothing,” said Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls, echoing a common sentiment among his colleagues. No House Democrat voted in favor of the proposal.
Similarly disappointed was Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, who earlier this session introduced a bill that would have allowed for the production and sale of cannabidiol in Iowa. His proposal was similar to a measure approved last year by Democrats in control of the Senate, although Cownie’s bill permitted cannabidiol for treatment of fewer ailments and permitted fewer dispensaries.
In brief remarks on the proposal offered Monday night, Cownie addressed advocates who attended the debate in the House chamber, saying to them, “I’m very sorry we aren’t able to pass a comprehensive bill.”
Advocates have spent months pushing state lawmakers to expand Iowa’s medical cannabis program, which permits Iowans to possess cannabidiol but does not provide access to cannabidiol in the state. They, too, called the House Republicans’ proposal inadequate.
“We’re pleased that (Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake) is interested in helping Iowans that need medical cannabis. However, suggesting we look to another state to solve Iowa’s problem is counter-productive at this stage in the session,” Steve Gaer, co-founder of the advocacy group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis and parent of a daughter who suffers from epileptic seizures, said in a statement. “We need the comprehensive solution that Rep. Cownie and a large, bipartisan group of legislators have been advocating for since the beginning of this session to become law.”
The Iowa Epilepsy Foundation issued a statement Monday night saying it could not support the House Republicans’ proposal.
“This bill gives false hope and provides hypothetical solutions to the critical issue in front of Iowans,” Dale Todd, legislative chair of the foundation, said in an emailed statement. “We had no input on this bill nor did we see it until (Monday). This is coming from those that we thought two years ago were going to help fix the bad bill that was passed in the wee hours of the session. The trust is simply not there.”
Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, defended the proposal as “a big step forward” and lamented its failure to gain passage, saying he was “extremely disappointed.”
Nunn, who said he has been in contact with state legislators from Minnesota in hopes of forming a partnership with that state’s medical cannabis program, said it would be not be cost-effective to permit cannabidiol dispensaries in Iowa, which he says has fewer than 1,000 residents that would be aided by an expanded medical cannabis program.
House Democrats hoped Monday night to offer their medical cannabis expansion proposal, which would have been similar to the Senate Democrats’ plan. But Republican leaders declined Monday night to debate the bill to which Democrats offered their plan as an amendment.