At Liberty by Adam Sullivan

Iowa Republicans have a chance to fix marijuana law

Medical cannabis bill approved this year has limited impact

A flag using marijuana leaves as stars flies outside Evergreen Cannabis on Monday, May 1, 2017 in Blaine, Wash. (Philip A. Dwyer/Bellingham Herald/TNS)
A flag using marijuana leaves as stars flies outside Evergreen Cannabis on Monday, May 1, 2017 in Blaine, Wash. (Philip A. Dwyer/Bellingham Herald/TNS)

The mantra of the drug reform movement has remained the same for years - tax and regulate. Now we’re finding that might not work.

Iowa officials recently approved the first manufacturing license under the state’s medical cannabis law. It’s good news for some patients, but government restrictions mean many other patients will be left out.

The law signed by former Gov. Terry Branstad this year only allows two manufacturers and five dispensaries, and it imposes significant fees and regulatory burdens. Just one company has applied to participate. The lukewarm response to the new business opportunity suggests the law is too strict.

At least 29 other states have functioning medical marijuana programs, and at least seven have recreational sales in place. Yet Iowa’s laws are so restrictive that it is not yet counted among medical marijuana states by advocacy groups tallying the issue.

Iowa health authorities say they have received fewer than 1,000 applications for patient and caregiver licenses, probably because there is not yet a way to access cannabis products through the state-regulated system. Once there is, it’s not clear how many people will be helped.

Our law covers fewer than a dozen conditions, and it limits THC to three percent, which many advocates believe makes cannabis treatments less effective.

Iowa runs the risk of pulling an Ohio-style blunder. Their 2015 recreational marijuana referendum would have set up a state-mandated marijuana monopoly, backed by business investors. It was soundly rejected by voters, and even some drug reform advocates campaigned against it.

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Industries with heavy government intervention often have a small number of corporations controlling a huge portion of the market. Look at beer, health insurance,and pharmaceuticals.

Government makes it difficult or impossible for new firms to enter the market, while large conglomerates can afford the burdens. A lack of competition is ultimately bad for consumers, driving up costs and limiting choices.

The watered down medical marijuana bill was passed in the final hours of this year’s legislative session. Key parts were cut to earn support from holdouts in the Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate. It was a disappointing move from the party that supposedly believes in freedom and limited government.

Even though I have plenty of complaints, I supported that bill because I’m hopeful now that Iowa has a cannabis industry, no matter how small, it’s unlikely politicians will get rid of it. Next steps should be to cover more conditions, increase the THC limit, and ease regulatory burdens.

Lawmakers go to Des Moines soon, and voters are eager for Republicans to prove they can turn their legislative majority into tangible legislative progress. Helping sick people is an easy way to do that.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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