Iowa Governor Signs Expansion of Medical Cannabis Bill

Iowa Governor Signs Expansion of Medical Cannabis Bill

With Iowa’s existing medical cannabis law set to expire, lawmakers in the state reached an eleventh-hour deal to expand the state’s limited medical cannabis program.  The compromise bill, House File 524, was signed by Governor Terry Branstad just before he left office to become the United States Ambassador to China.

In a statement issued after the signing, Branstad said, “I recognize medical research continues to investigate the efficacy of medical cannabidiol.  We sympathize with the families that have a loved one that might benefit from treatments that include the use of this product, and, for those reasons, I have signed (House File 524) into law.”

An Ineffective Program

To say that the old law was ineffective would be a dramatic understatement.  The 2014 Medical Cannabidiol Act allowed only patients with intractable epilepsy to use CBD oil containing 3% THC or less.

The bill did not permit in-state cultivation nor did it allow dispensaries to sell CBD products, so producing and distributing CBD oil within the state was illegal.

Patients could possess CBD oil, but they had to acquire it from sources outside the state.  Given that federal law prohibits the transportation of medical cannabis products across state lines, it forced patients into the ultimate catch-22.

It’s no wonder only 38 people currently have medical cannabis cards.

More Benefits to Iowans

The new and improved law provides several benefits to Iowans.

It substantially expands the pool of patients eligible to possess cannabis oil by adding eight new approved conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, HIV/AIDS, untreatable pain, and terminal illness.

The new law now provides for up to two cultivation/manufacturer licenses and up to five dispensary licenses located across the state according to geographic need.  Under this law, licensed facilities must be supplying CBD oil to patients by December 1, 2018.

In an interesting twist, the new program allows the Department of Health to authorize two out-of-state dispensaries where Iowans can purchase CBD oil until the state can distribute it locally.  This first-of-its-kind arrangement would provide faster relief to needy patients.

Iowa is currently attempting to work out a deal with neighboring Minnesota to accomplish this. However, it’s difficult to understand how this would work considering that neither Minnesota nor federal law currently allows for such an arrangement.

Limitations to the Iowa Medical Cannabis Law

As with the previous law, the THC content remains capped at 3%.  So even though eight new conditions were approved, many of these chronic medical conditions require a higher amount of THC to achieve significant therapeutic benefit.

Additionally, the law prohibits smoking, vaporizing, and consuming marijuana edibles.

Despite the restrictions, there is no question that the benefits of the new medical cannabis bill far outweigh the limitations.  It will now be left for legalization advocates, patients, and lawmakers to work to improve the law in future legislative sessions.