Medical cannabis saga is legislative malpractice

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Here’s an idea. Why don’t we outsource our legislative branch to Minnesota?

I can’t take full credit. I was inspired by our own Iowa House.

Instead of voting on legislation creating a real medical cannabis program in Iowa, giving patients suffering from serious medical conditions access to marijuana derivatives right here at home, House Republicans presented a sham measure this past week that, at its core, would send sick Iowans to seek medicine in other states, such as Minnesota. Lawmakers to our north actually cared enough about their residents to create a medical cannabis program.

Rather than making cannabis legal for medical use here, a concept that polls show Iowans support by massive margins, our legislators, House Republicans in particular, came up with a weak, inadequate answer to the long, tireless lobbying of patients, families and allies. The best thing I can say is it was put out of its misery by a 63-31 vote, defeated both by the callous coalition of do-nothings and by medical cannabis supporters who saw through it as yet another sorry charade. Subsequent efforts to revive a broader bill in the session’s waning hours failed.

Barring some sort of last-second legislative miracle after my Friday column deadline, it’s wait until next year.

And it wasn’t the only example this year of legislators acting as cannabis travel agents.

“If it (were) my kid, I would move to Colorado,” Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin, told the mother of a son with a seizure disorder, Quincy Grittman, who was lobbying for medical cannabis at the Capitol earlier this session, according to KCCI-TV. A video of the exchange drew thousands of views.

So if we can’t even depend on our elected lawmakers to solve a clear, pressing problem using a clear solution we the people strongly support, why do we need a Legislature? Why not send out our issues to deliberative bodies elsewhere that do more than duck, dodge and chow down at special interest receptions?

Too harsh? Too bad. Of all the sad legislative spectacles we’ve witnessed this year, the medical cannabis debacle is my nominee for the saddest.

And, of course, our governor has marched in to lead us through these trying times.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’m not sure anything’s going to happen. We’re going to have to see what happens,” Branstad said Tuesday when asked about medical cannabis legislation.

What’s happening is diddly squat.

A few years ago, lawmakers approved a modest bill allowing parents with children suffering from intractable epilepsy to possess cannabidiol, an oil derived from marijuana that has shown promise in controlling severe seizures. It was hailed as a fine first step. Trouble is, it did nothing at all to help those families legally obtain the treatment. It can’t be produced and sold in Iowa, and legal barriers are stopping Iowans from buying it where it’s legal.

Last year, the Democrat-controlled Senate approved a bill that would have set to work creating a comprehensive Iowa medical cannabis program, making Iowa-produced medical derivatives accessible, through a physician, to people suffering from more than a dozen afflictions, including epilepsy, cancer, intractable pain and others. The Republican-controlled house didn’t take it up.

This year, a similar bill surfaced briefly in the House, only to be heavily watered down behind the scenes in a misguided attempt to make it more politically palatable to GOP leaders. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, is among Republicans who oppose setting up an Iowa program, insisting we wait for our lumbering federal government to give us a green light. Never mind that 23 states already have programs. Forget that Republicans normally see federal intervention as unwelcome, at least when it affects constituencies they care about.

So at the end of this sorry sausage factory, we get a helpful legislative road map to Minnesota.

Sorry, folks, but our Legislature is held hostage by drug war dead-enders infected with a chronic touch of the reefer madness. Good luck, and dress warm. It can get kinda cold up there. You betcha.

I understand the good intentions of some Republicans who saw this late measure as a small dose of progress. They deserve some credit for that. But they could have done so much more.

And what burns me most about this train wreck is that legal medical cannabis is going to happen in Iowa. It will. Eventually, a critical mass of public opinion will seep into our golden dome of wisdom.

So that means, with every half-measure, maddening delay and timid step, all we’re really doing is extending suffering, anxiety and pain for sick folks and their families. Not addressing that reality with a real, regulated, limited and effective Iowa solution is legislative malpractice.

Minnesota’s program is hardly perfect. It’s suffered so far from low participation, both by patients and doctors, and high costs. But at least lawmakers there stepped up to help their citizens and do the right thing. They didn’t play games, hide from the issue and seek a way to shift the responsibility to another state.

Maybe it’s our lawmakers who need to take a field trip north, to see how it’s done. Or maybe Iowa voters should simply show them the door.

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

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