In defending her veto of a bill expanding the state's medical marijuana program, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week that the measure was "too much of a jump for her."
In the closing days of the session, Iowa lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to expand the state's medical marijuana law, enhancing the allowable limit of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, so that people could purchase up to 25 grams per 90 days. The amount was higher than what state's Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board recommended — and more than the 3% cap currently in place.
Proponents of the bill say the cap limits the program's effectiveness.
The governor didn't agree with the bill that was offered, but she said she's willing to work with the legislature on a compromise.
It's too bad there wasn't more clarity on this issue during the session. Some lawmakers confessed to being confused by what the state's cannabis advisory board was recommending. And the governor's veto of a bill that was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers in her own caucus suggests a clear disconnect.
This breakdown occurs as states all around us are liberalizing their own marijuana laws. We just saw the Illinois General Assembly pass a bill legalizing recreational marijuana. With Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s expected signature, that will make Illinois the 11th state to do so. Sales will begin in January.
The new law will allow the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana, which is a little more than an ounce. The purchases have to be made at approved dispensaries. People from out of state can buy half that, though it’s important to note, possession still is illegal in Iowa.
We doubt this kind of legalization will come to Iowa anytime soon. The state is historically cautious — sometimes to a fault — though in this instance it is a reticence that is shared by the public. A Des Moines Register poll earlier this year found the state evenly split on the question of legalization.
The trend, however, seems to be moving toward legalization.
This editorial board reflects that division. The libertarian idea that this should be the choice of individuals is reflected, as is the uncertainty that comes from the knowledge that the science is unsettled on the medicinal benefits of marijuana. We have seen reports that cannabidiol, a part of cannabis plant that does not produce a high, has promise in dealing with opioid addiction. But there is debate about that, too.
What is clear, however, is that the current law is not sufficient. Nearly 80% of Iowans in that same Register poll, said the law needs to be expanded.
Last we checked, only about 100 people in Scott County had been approved for cards. Our sense is the need is greater.
We have heard the stories of people who have been helped — whose pain has been eased — by the use of marijuana. We have also heard the stories of those who continue to suffer and are asking for more help. Their experiences should be heard and valued, even as we evaluate the conflicting medical evidence.
Our fear is that with so many states approving recreational marijuana, Iowa's program will soon become irrelevant.
With Illinois legalizing marijuana, there is no doubt that some of it will be brought back to Iowa. Adam Sullivan, a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and a critic of the restrictions in Iowa's law, recently wrote that this development would be troubling for public health advocates. "Lacking a workable medical cannabis program, Iowa patients will be forced into medicating themselves with lightly regulated products, outside the purview of medical professionals," he wrote.
That surely is not what Iowa legislators want. But it is the direct consequence of legislating by neglect. Iowa passed a medical marijuana law five years ago and expanded it only slightly two years ago. Yet, it still is fairly restrictive. There are few dispensaries, a doctor’s approval is required and, even with that approval, only a limited number of number of conditions can qualify for help.
Modest attempts to loosen the language for qualifying criteria haven't even moved forward.
Democrats in the legislature have called for a special session to overturn the governor’s veto, but that is not likely to go anywhere. Republican lawmakers voted to expand the program, but they won’t turn it into a fight with the governor.
It seems to us that legislators who don't want to stick up for their bill but who still want to help Iowans, ought to move swiftly and aggressively to put together a program that works in this new environment. What's clear is that sticking with the status quo isn’t adequate.