The Iowa Senate voted Wednesday to establish a comprehensive medical cannabis program for Iowans seeking relief from debilitating diseases and conditions, a measure that proponents say builds in safeguards to keep it from ushering in legalized use of marijuana for recreational purposes.
Senators approved by a 26-19 margin the medical cannabis expansion legislation that would authorize the production and dispensing of medical cannabis for expanded uses and medical conditions. Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, joined 25 Democrats in approving Senate File 484, while Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, opposed the bill along with 18 Republicans. Five GOP senators were absent during Wednesday’s floor debate.
“Senate File 484 would create a safe, legal, affordable, effective, highly regulated way for Iowans and their families to access medicine made from cannabis,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, the bill’s floor manager.
“Sick and suffering Iowans are asking for our help. They are asking us because Washington, D. C., is broken,” Bolkcom added. “The simple truth is that Iowa’s elected leaders are the only people who can help them and their families. For many of these Iowans, their lives really are in our hands.”
GOP opponents argued against the bill, calling it a “political” statement by majority Democrats that will not be taken up by the GOP-led House — a claim disputed by proponents.
Before passing the bill, senators amended the bill to reschedule marijuana as a scheduled II substance that would be eligible for medical research and prescription by licensed physicians. Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, tried unsuccessfully to revamp the expansive measure to only deal with the rescheduling change.
“This is something that has an actual chance of passing,” he said before the amendment lost on a 20-24 vote.
Bolkcom noted that Iowa enacted a law last year that legalized the possession and use of up to 32 ounces of cannabidiol for the sole purpose of treating intractable epilepsy and its side effects for people under a physician’s care who acquired an approved cannabidiol registration card. However, he said that system that has proven to be overly limited and unworkable for acquiring the oil from out-of-state sources.
To address the deficiencies of Iowa’s law, proponents crafted legislation modeled after 23 states with comprehensive medical cannabis programs that would legalize multiple forms of cannabis for the treatment of multiple medical conditions and provide for local acquisition of cannabis. The bill would prohibit the smoking of medical cannabis products.
The bill seeks to establish a Medical Advisory Board to provide oversight of the program and consider conditions that would be eligible for medical cannabis. The proposal also authorize for medical cannabis producers and 12 independent dispensaries with a fee and licensing system for the various participants that would fund state oversight efforts. Iowans with a doctor’s recommendation would pay up to $100 for a state-issued medical marijuana license that would enable them to buy products made from the marijuana plant.
Opponents said the legislation would “let people self medicate,” but does not provide the protections that would come from advanced research and more study.