116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa officials are spinning their wheels in the effort to get an exemption from federal marijuana prohibition. It’s time for our federally elected legislators to do their jobs and advocate on our behalf.
State policymakers have been trying the past couple years to bring Iowa’s heavily restricted medical cannabis program in line with federal law, which still lists marijuana among the most illegal substances. So far, all it has amounted to is a few letters exchanged between state and federal bureaucrats.
Iowa passed a law last year directing health officials to “request guarantees” from federal funders that educational and long-term care institutions won’t lose federal dollars over allowing patients to use a medical cannabis products.
For several months after the language was signed into law, the state took no action on it. Finally this April — after a constituent took legal action against Gov. Kim Reynolds in district court over the delay — state officials sent letters to four federal agencies to make the request.
It makes a complete mockery out of federalism when 47 states representing about 98 percent of the U.S. population allow some legal medical access to a plant that is recognized by the federal government as having no medical value.
In June, the Food and Drug Administration’s director of intergovernmental affairs replied: “To our knowledge,” he wrote, Iowa’s medical marijuana program would not affect eligibility for federal grants and contracts to colleges. He recommended reaching out to other federal agencies.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Education and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid so far have not responded to the letters sent in April.
The state is going about it all wrong, according to the marijuana reform activist who forced the issue onto the agenda.
Carl Olsen, organizer of Iowans for Medical Marijuana, has repeatedly urged the state to apply to the DEA administrator for a federal exemption, a process that is already prescribed by federal code and has been applied to the psychoactive cactus peyote for religious uses.
Short of a change to federal law legalizing marijuana, the DEA exemption is the only way to bring Iowa’s program in compliance with federal law, Olsen argues. Iowa’s strategy of trying to "guarantee“ federal funding is not the same as a full exemption.
“This sends a message that Iowans are doing something wrong and want the federal government to ignore it and look the other way. It sends a message that we do not respect the rule of law are incapable of governing ourselves,” Olsen said at an Iowa Cannabidiol Board meeting this month.
If only Iowans had some sort of representatives tasked with advocating on our behalf in Washington, D.C. Oh, that’s right, we have six members of Congress who are supposed to do that.
Olsen sent a letter to Grassley in July to explain the situation with the federal exemption, writing, “Iowa needs an exemption for cannabis just like the one the DEA currently maintains for peyote. How hard is that to understand?”
Grassley responded to the letter this month. After a lengthy canned message about marijuana, Grassley wrote that he would “follow up with the DEA” and “seek further clarification” about a marijuana exemption as described in the federal code of regulations.
State government leaders should put more pressure on our influential federal lawmakers to stand up for the thousands of Iowans enrolled in the medical marijuana program. Right now, those patients and their providers are federal outlaws.
Every member of Iowa’s federal delegation supports at least bolstering research for marijuana, but only U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, the lone Democrat from Iowa, has said she is open to full legalization. They all should be in favor of protecting the state-authorized medical program, whether through legislative or bureaucratic means.
It makes a complete mockery out of federalism when 47 states representing about 98 percent of the U.S. population allow some legal medical access to a plant that is recognized by the federal government as having no medical value and a high potential for abuse.
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