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Iowa governor vetoes medical marijuana expansion bill

May 30, 2019

Iowans are going to have to wait for another legislative session to see any growth in their existing medical marijuana program.

Late last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed a bill that would have expanded the state’s medical marijuana program, arguing that caution is the better point of valor when dealing with the state’s pre-approved potency levels of marijuana products.

“The health and safety of Iowans is too important for us not to get this right,” Reynolds said in her veto message, which she released prior to the beginning of Memorial Day weekend.

Unfortunately, this veto marks a strike against the Hawkeye State’s current medical marijuana program. In accordance with current state laws, patients with specific medical conditions may take specific cannabis products to treat their condition.

[Arizona Supreme Court ruling ends a five-year argument over medical marijuana extracts]

These products include cannabis capsules, extracts, cannabis concentrates, lotions, ointments, and tinctures. Under the current medical marijuana program, smoking marijuana—either for recreational purposes or medicinal—remains illegal in Iowa.

According to Reynolds’ statement, she based her decision to veto the legislation on feedback from a state medical marijuana board that argued against expanding current medical marijuana potency laws.

“Ultimately, I believe Iowa must proceed cautiously to ensure that any expansion of our medical (cannabidiol) program is thoughtful and deliberate—particularly because Iowa’s program is in its infancy and the body of research that analyzes the efficacy of medical CBD is limited,” she stated.

What would the bill have done?

The bill that Reynolds vetoed specifically addressed the state medical marijuana program’s THC limit on allowable medical products. The bill would have replaced the state’s current 3 percent THC limit on medical marijuana products and would have instead allowed patients to purchase up to 25 grams of THC products in a 90-day period.

The bill would have also allowed a patient’s caregiver to purchase up to 25 grams of THC products for their patients. The bill also expanded upon current state-defined conditions which are eligible to receive medical marijuana for treatment purposes.

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Specifically, the bill would have revised “untreatable pain” to “severe or chronic pain” on the list of medical conditions that would allow a patient to receive medical marijuana. Additionally, the bill would have lifted the current ban on felons being able to participate in the medical marijuana program.

Why did Reynolds veto the bill?

Unfortunately, the bill faced strong opposition throughout the legislative process, even before it reached the governor’s desk. The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board, which is made up primarily of physicians, has been vocally reluctant to expand upon the five-year-old medical marijuana program.

Back in April, the board did recommend removing the THC percentage cap; however, they recommended replacing the 3 percent THC percentage cap with a limit of 4.5 grams rather than 25 grams over a 90-day period.

[Texas House moves medical marijuana bills forward]

In a letter addressed to the governor and state lawmakers, the board argued that a higher gram limit would allow “an extremely large amount of THC for a medical program that seeks to avoid becoming a recreational program.”

Reynolds agreed with their argument, and stated that while she agreed that the THC percentage limit should be increased for patients, she was concerned that a 25-gram limit would allow a person to consume THC levels “higher than one would typically consume even with aggressive recreational marijuana use.”

“I have not been unable to discern any evidence-based justification for the specific 25-gram limit proposed in this bill,” Reynolds said.

Legislative response

In spite of the board’s argument against increasing the THC-limit to 25 grams, the bill had enjoyed popular support in the state legislature across party lines. State patients have been lobbying for an increase in the THC percentage limit, arguing that the current limit forces patients to find additional relief elsewhere.

State legislators even argued that the current restrictions are wasteful, expensive, and frustrating for patients. State Senator Brad Zaun said that he was extremely disappointed with the veto.

“This will be a top priority in January 2020,” Zaun said in a statement.

Sen. Claire Celsi took to Twitter saying that this is not the last time that voters will see the THC-limit cap as a legislative measure.

“I’m very disappointed (actually, quite pissed) that Gov. Reynolds ignored the vast majority of people in Iowa who want the medical cannabis law modified to help more sick and suffering Iowans. Her veto was simply unconscionable,” Celsi tweeted.

While Iowans won’t see an increase in the THC cap this year, they can certainly expect to see it come up in the 2020 legislative session.

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