Iowa Legislature should not delay expansion of medical cannabis

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Twenty-three states have legalized marijuana for medical use despite being given no specific federal authority to do so. It’s time for Iowa to join them.

A bill passed by lawmakers in 2014 allowed epilepsy patients to possess cannabidiol, which is derived from the marijuana plant. It was a move in the right direction, one that we previously applauded. Yet, the law was flawed.

Iowans can legally possess this drug, but it cannot legally be produced or distributed in Iowa. Those who could benefit from it are now forced to remain in Iowa and engage in criminal activity or move elsewhere. Understandably, many have chosen the latter.

Less understandable is the lack of movement by the Legislature to correct the problem by legalizing in-state production and distribution of cannabidiol. Across the Illinois state line, residents suffering from a host of conditions can apply for a medical marijuana permit and access state-licensed dispensaries. Terminal Minnesota residents have the option of a liquid or pill form of the substance.

Neither of our neighbors have gone the route of Colorado, legalizing marijuana for recreational use, and have reported no significant uptick of what Gov. Terry Branstad calls use “for illicit purposes.” It’s perplexing that similar common ground has eluded Iowa lawmakers.

A bill passed in the Iowa Senate last year that both addresses the cannabidiol legal conflict and expands the list of medical conditions given the option of the therapy. A more conservative bill received approval this year in an Iowa House committee, but has been stalled by House Republican leadership.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer believes the state should wait until the federal government approves marijuana as a prescription medication. Republicans supporting the House bill are hesitant to push it to the floor without Upmeyer’s support.

Branstad previously held a similar stance, but this week indicated he would be open to discussions that would allow updating the existing law.

That’s in line with most Iowans’ position on the issue. Polls show at least four out of five residents support expanded medical marijuana laws, even more Iowans believe lawmakers should address their past mistake.

Upmeyer should follow Branstad’s and the public’s lead.

• Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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