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Iowa House passes bill changing THC limit in state’s medical marijuana program

Governor Kim Reynolds plans to continue to work with the legislature to find a compromise on medical marijuana. Des Moines Register

The Iowa House has passed a bill that would change how much THC patients can receive through the state’s medical marijuana program, add more qualifying conditions and allow more health care practitioners to recommend Iowans be added to the program.

The bill, which passed on a vote of 52-46, follows the recommendation of a state advisory board and is in line with what Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said she is comfortable with signing, but Democrats called it a step backward for the program.

The bill would replace Iowa’s current percentage-based limit, which allows medical marijuana products to contain up to 3% THC, with a per-patient limit of 4.5 grams of THC in a 90-day period.

There are two exceptions to the THC limit: The bill would allow patients to exceed 4.5 grams of THC if a doctor determines that amount is insufficient to treat their condition, or if they are terminally ill.

Iowa’s program allows capsules, extracts, concentrates, lotions, ointments and tinctures. Smoking medical or recreational marijuana remains prohibited in Iowa.

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Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, said a 4.5-gram limit would be “a big step backwards” from how the current law operates. Forbes, a pharmacist, said he has patients who currently receive more THC than would be allowed under the bill’s proposed gram limit.

“I’ve had a couple of patients tell me if we pass legislation that limits it to the 50 milligrams per day, which is the 4.5 grams per 90 days, they will probably drop off the program — and they’ll have to have something for pain relief, so they’ll go back on their opioid medications,” Forbes said.

Last year, Reynolds vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have put the THC limit at 25 grams over 90 days. At the time, she said the state must move cautiously in expanding the program.

Since Reynolds’ veto, lawmakers have been looking for a compromise that she would be willing to sign. With Tuesday’s vote, the House bill becomes eligible for consideration in the Iowa Senate, where a committee has advanced a separate bill that would put the limit at 25 grams.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully on Tuesday to amend the bill to raise the THC limit to 25 grams over 90 days. The House also voted down Democratic amendments that attempted to compromise on the gram limit and raise it to 15 grams.

“This bill still has work that needs done to it. I would like to see us vote this bill down (and) continue to have conversations with the Senate,” said Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, shortly before the bill’s final passage.

In February, Reynolds said she agreed with the state Medical Cannabidiol Board’s recommendation of 4.5 grams of THC per patient over a 90-day period. The board is made up of physicians and law enforcement personnel and makes recommendations about the program’s scope.

That public statement from Reynolds gave lawmakers a signal about what she would be willing to sign, said Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, the floor manager for the House bill.

Klein said House Republicans, on the whole, have not been interested in going beyond the recommendations of the Medical Cannabidiol Board.

“We based a lot of this on the advice of very smart medical professionals because in the state of Iowa we have a medical program, not a recreational program masquerading as a medical program,” Klein said. “And that’s the way we’re going to keep it.”

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, the floor manager for the Senate bill, said Tuesday that he expects the Senate to take up the House’s bill as the vehicle for making any changes to the state’s program this year.

Zaun said he recognizes that the 25-gram limit in his bill “was shooting for the stars,” but he said he still intends to negotiate with the Senate and Reynolds’ office for a higher THC amount.

“I recognize that mine’s probably too high, but I’m willing to negotiate. What we don’t want to do is we don’t want to send a bill that the governor disagrees with like last time,” Zaun said.

Klein said he’s not interested in negotiating a higher THC limit in the bill and pointed to Reynolds’ comments on the subject.

“They may want a compromise that’s higher, but I think the governor’s given us a pretty clear indication of what she wants,” Klein said. “And, based on last year, we know she’s not afraid to veto a bill that she doesn’t think is right, especially in this area.”

The bill also makes other changes to the program, including adding post-traumatic stress disorder and “severe, intractable autism with self-injurious or aggressive behaviors” to the list of medical conditions that are treatable through the program. It also replaces “untreatable” pain with “chronic” pain on that list. And it adds physician assistants, podiatrists, advanced registered nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurses to the list of health care practitioners allowed to certify patients to receive registration cards to participate in the program.

The bill follows the recommendation of a state advisory board and is in line with what Gov. Kim Reynolds said she is comfortable with signing.

Northern Iowan

Northern Iowan

Opinion Columnist Emerson Slomka discusses Iowa’s marijuana legislation in comparison to Illinois’.

On Jan. 1 of this year, recreational marijuana use was legalized in my home state of Illinois. A record high of $68 million in profits last month were reached, and, depending on the product, the tax paid can be anywhere from 10% to 25%. These taxes go to various different funds, but collectively contribute to clearing records, providing drug treatments, supporting communities and supporting the end of the war on drugs.

Prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana, Illinois allowed for the legalized use of medical marijuana in controlled circumstances; products containing THC (the psychoactive substance that causes highs) required a referral from one’s doctor, but anyone over the age of 18 could purchase CBD (the component of cannabis with no psychoactive capabilities, but with stronger medicinal properties). Iowa, by comparison, has much more conservative laws surrounding marijuana. Recreational use is illegal; medical use is restricted to the point where it might as well be illegal. While laws surrounding CBD are admittedly confusing and unclear, it can be concluded that, in most cases, it’s illegal without doctors’ consent.

Leaving Illinois, a place with such a strong “cannabis culture,” and moving to a place where practically any use of the substance was illegal was admittedly a bit jarring. Back home, I know a multitude of people who legally used medical marijuana for both mental and physical ailments, and I myself relied on CBD products to relieve pain from my chronic migraines. The reality is, cannabis has been used recreationally and medicinally since its discovery, and its criminalization had nothing to do with health risks– rather, it was a blatant act of racism that can be predominantly linked to a blatantly racist individual named Harry Anslinger, the founding Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

I’ll spare you the particularly heinous remarks he had made about non-white people during his reign, but in short, he believed the “horrors” of cannabis were used to fuel the fear of the “degeneracy” of Mexican immigrants during a time in which immigration was becoming increasingly common. Due to its accessibility in the southern States, cannabis became closely associated with early 20th century jazz culture (a predominantly Black culture) which, of course, Anslinger used to further the fear. Even to this day, in non-decriminalized states such as Iowa, jails and prisons are packed with nonviolent offenders for “crimes” that are completely legal across state lines. This only raises the question: why isn’t Iowa legalizing cannabis?

According to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll, a 53% majority of Iowans support legalizing recreational marijuana. Even more telling is the 81% of Iowans who support expanding access to medical marijuana– it’s obvious that Iowans are in support of change. The issue doesn’t seem to come down to Iowans, but rather, Iowa’s leadership. Governor Kim Reynolds is outspoken about her stance against cannabis use, and doesn’t seem to be in a persuadable position:

“I do not support recreational marijuana. I don’t. I won’t be the governor to do that… I just think that when the data continues to come in, especially with the strength that we’re seeing, the potency, the amount of psychotic episodes that are happening, it’s a gateway and there are statistics there to support that.”

While her stance on recreational marijuana use leaves a lot to be desired (and cites a lot of disproven science– most marijuana users don’t move onto “harder” drugs, a fact accepted by the CDC), her stance on medical marijuana is promising, at least:

“Medical is different. I think we need to be cautious and careful.”

However, as long as Reynolds continues to serve as governor, it’s unlikely that Iowa will see any sort of drug reform, no matter how long overdue it is. The resounding success of Illinois’ legalization should be a sign that Iowa needs to adapt to the changing world and that its leaders need to listen to its people.

On Jan. 1 of this year, recreational marijuana use was legalized in my home state of Illinois. A record high of $68 million in profits last month were reached, and, depending on the product, the tax paid can be anywhere from 10% to 25%. These taxes go to various different funds, but collectively contribute to… ]]>