More work to do on medical cannabis

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Lawmakers worked throughout the night last Friday to craft and pass a revamp of the Iowa Medical Cannabis Act. Their last ditch effort kept the program alive, fixed a significant flaw in the current law, and still fell far short of what most Iowans want.

The bill is a compromise between the Republican majorities in each chamber. Senators generally favored expanding access to the prescription drug. Some Representatives appeared ready to let the three-year-old pilot program sunset in July. The final bill is a timid one, reflecting the unfounded fears of some legislators that expanding access to medical marijuana will lead to an increase in recreational use, but it leaves the program — and perhaps a few more Iowans — to live and fight another day. We urge Gov. Terry Branstad to sign it into law.

Current law allows Iowans with debilitating epilepsy to possess cannabis oil, but failed to lift a prohibition on manufacture and distribution of the oil. Federal law prohibits transport across state lines, leaving no legal way for them to get their hands on the drug. That might explain why fewer than 150 signed up for a program originally estimated to benefit up to 30,000 people.

If Gov. Branstad signs the new bill into law, a small network of two in-state manufacturers and five dispensaries will be established. Manufacturers will be limited to the production of medical cannabidiol that is no more than 3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most well-known cannabinoid in marijuana due to its psychoactive properties. While this limitation is added assurance no one will get “high” while on the program, it also guarantees Iowans won’t receive the sleep, pain and muscle spasm benefits reported by users of higher concentrations of the oil.

The bill also expands the list of medical conditions that can be treated with cannibidol, although most of these new medical categories are refined to include only those who experience chronic pain, nausea or severe wasting. Any Iowan with a previous felony conviction involving a controlled substance is excluded, regardless of suffering.

A new, governor-appointed board will build the distribution network and make recommendations. The Board of Medicine must sign off on additional medical conditions; only the General Assembly can approve an increase in THC levels.

It’s cautious legislation, heavily influenced by lawmakers who have failed to listen to the 80 percent of Iowans who want marijuana legalized for medical purposes. But it is a step in the right direction.

• Comments: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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