Cannabis gets kicked once again at the Statehouse

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Before the legislative session, Republicans planned to “kick the door in” at the Statehouse. Now, they barely have the courage to look through the peephole at a meaningful medical marijuana bill.

It’s pathetic, and, sadly, predictable.

To be fair, there is a flicker of hope in the Iowa Senate, where Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, has filed a bill that would set up a real medical marijuana program in Iowa. It would allow Iowans suffering from a lengthy list of “debilitating” conditions to access cannabis through their doctors. It would license four growers and 18 dispensaries. A medical advisory board would help shape and oversee the program.

It’s a good bill that should become law. Instead, its chances likely are slim.

The House is a far different story. There, the live round is a bill which would simply extend our current worthless cannabis law, allowing Iowans to possess cannabidiol oil for the treatment of severe epilepsy only. Trouble is, you can’t manufacture the oil here, and it’s illegal to buy it elsewhere and bring it to Iowa. Hence the “worthless” label.

Under the House bill, if the federal government reclassifies cannabidiol as a medicinal product, Iowa will do the same. That could happen this year, and would be a good step forward. But because it’s the federal government, who knows?

So the House Bill is lousy, timid legislation, but it’s probably the best we’ll get from skittish House GOP leaders, who have yet to find a cure for chronic reefer madness. This despite compelling testimonials from scores of suffering Iowans and their loved ones pleading for help. Maybe they need to hire Americans for Prosperity, which led the push to gut collective bargaining.

Even Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, who once went to California seeking to prove medical marijuana is a scam, now favors broader access to cannabis.

Iowans outside the Golden Dome of Wisdom also want to do the right thing. The latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows 80 percent of Iowans in favor of legal medical marijuana, including large majorities of young and old, Republicans and Democrats. I doubt even ridiculously warm February days would poll much better than that. If lawmakers aren’t listening to Iowans, who are they listening to? Maybe it’s pharmaceutical interests that have opposed changes to marijuana laws nationally.

But why? Well, in a study released last year, a pair of University of Georgia researchers dug into Medicare Part D prescription records from 2010 to 2013 and found that prescriptions for painkillers and other drugs fell in 17 states with medical marijuana laws in place. In those states, the study found a typical doctor prescribed 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers in a given year. Profits might drop for if too many people pick pot over painkillers.

I’m not talking about legalizing pot in Iowa for fun. I’m talking about a limited, controlled and thoughtful program that allows Iowans and doctors to access cannabis. We already allow doctors to prescribe scores of medications far more dangerous. Other states have smoothed the way. Open the door already.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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