116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It's one of the only issues where a supermajority of Iowans agree, but Iowa lawmakers are set to go another year without taking any significant action.
A whopping 78 percent of Iowans support expanding the medical cannabis program to include more conditions, while just 14 percent oppose it, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released last week. It's hard to find another policy proposal with such widespread support in Iowa.
Politicians can only dream of being so popular. Gov. Kim Reynolds has 46 percent approval and President Joe Biden 47 percent, according to the latest Iowa Poll.
Several of the bills Republicans are advancing this year are under water in terms of public support - reducing the early voting period (42 percent), amending the state constitution to say it does not recognize abortion rights (31 percent) and cutting unemployment benefits for laid-off workers (17 percent).
Only two policy proposals come close to medical marijuana's popularity in the Register's latest round of polling: Increased penalties for people who assault law enforcement officers (75 percent) and a ban on racial profiling by police (70 percent). The governor proposed both at the start of the legislative session, but Republican lawmakers are only interested in the former.
Surprisingly, medical cannabis is more popular with Iowans than Donald Trump is with Iowa Republicans. If Trump seeks the GOP nomination in 2024, 61 percent of Iowa Republican caucusgoers would support him, according to a poll this month by Victory Insights.
So how are lawmakers acting on the public's demand for a better marijuana program? They're not.
Iowa has one of the weakest systems in the country, allowing a small number of people to get limited products at a few dispensaries.
Only about 5,000 Iowans have active medical cards as of last month. The law provides for five dispensaries and two manufacturers statewide but we are not even operating at that meager capacity as businesses find they can't stay afloat under the weight of Iowa's extreme regulations.
The state now is in the process of licensing two more dispensaries and a second manufacturer. Hopefully they'll stick around.
Republicans controlling the Iowa Legislature are not poised to take significant action on medical cannabis this year.
Lawmakers considered a bill to improve the program - reduce fees for both patients and businesses, lift the limit of five dispensaries and authorize mobile dispensaries. While it would not expand the set of medical conditions covered, it could bolster access by allowing up to one marijuana dispensary per county. It still would not be a robust program, but it would be an improvement.
That bill has faltered since earning approval from a bipartisan panel in February. Aside from the medical program, legislation to decrease penalties for marijuana possession faces long odds and more aggressive marijuana decriminalization bills have been introduced but not taken up.
Under Iowa's medical cannabis system, a patient in Keokuk has to make a nearly three-hour drive to Waterloo to get medicine. But it's only about an hour to Quincy, Ill., where they could buy a much wider variety of recreational products to illegally traffic back to home.
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