The Iowa Legislature’s tepid entry into the medical marijuana field is so typically Iowa.
It is overly cautious and, we suspect, likely to be marginally effective as it now stands.
Since 2014, the legislature has taken baby steps to make cannabidiol available to Iowans.
First, it was legalized for people with epilepsy. The law also limited THC content to 3 percent. THC is the ingredient in marijuana that provides the "high."
However, there were no provisions in the 2014 law to manufacture or sell CBD. It took three years to fix that flaw.
In 2017, the legislature consented to expand the list of conditions and allow it to be manufactured at two locations and dispensed at five sites. One of those sites is in Davenport.
But, you may have noticed — how could you not? — that CBD is being sold in a lot of places. It is available in grocery stores, vape shops and a host of other outlets.
The state of Iowa has made clear that there are only five legal sites for distribution, but what also is equally clear is that the legislature is not keeping up with the public.
The demand for CBD is exploding in an age of anxiety, and because of the fear of the real damage that’s been done by opioids and other drugs.
We understand, somewhat, the caution that is being exhibited. There is, as a New York Times writer put it, "a paucity of data" about CBD's efficacy. But much of that is because research is limited to cannabis being a Schedule 1 drug.
Still, we believe there are obvious flaws in the state’s law that could be corrected immediately.
The easiest, it seems to us, has to do with the limited number of dispensaries. Five dispensaries for the entire state is just bewildering. In fact, the second largest city in the state, Cedar Rapids, does not have a state-licensed outlet.
Waterloo is the closest site. Where is the logic in that?
If lawmakers believe this is a product worth providing to people, why make it difficult for them to get it?
That Iowa’s limited number of dispensaries is unworkable is further evident by the uneven prosecution across the state of non-licensed facilities. It’s time the legislature fixed this.
The trickier issue is the limit on THC content.
The eight-person board overseeing the state CBD program voted unanimously last November against recommending to the legislature that the limit be raised.
"I’d like to get another year or two under our belts and see how people respond with the current THC cap," Lonny Miller, a physician and board member from Creston, told the Des Moines Register.
The board did expand the list of acceptable conditions to include severe pediatric autism, but not some others, like ADHD, PTSD and bi-polar disorder.
In Illinois, a much longer list of conditions qualify a person to get medical cannabis.
The Iowa board’s THC decision likely will make it harder for the Legislature to lift the limit, though Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said he plans to re-introduce legislation in the coming session to expand medical marijuana.
Lucas Nelson, general manager of MedPharm, the state-contracted grower, told the Register the state THC limit made no sense — and that people could just buy more product if they wanted higher levels. That would be a more expensive proposition, but also one that could provide greater relief. He suggested setting a cap on the amount of THC that individuals could take in, say, a month.
That would seem to us more effective than what’s on the books now.
States across the country have, for years, been moving to provide relief to people through more permissive medical marijuana laws. But Iowa is taking things slowly.
We see in this some parallels to the state's treatment of gambling, where betting and cruising regulations were first put on casinos — only to see them abandoned when it was clear, as it was to many in the beginning, that such wagering would expand across the country.
Such commercial and competitive concerns are now at the heart of how the state should respond to the newly legalized production of industrial hemp, which was enabled by the 2018 farm bill.
It seems lawmakers will have to take up this matter to position the state for what probably will be a fast-growing industry. It also would be a good move to fix the law that started off flawed nearly five years ago and has only marginally improved since then.