116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Are Iowa policymakers serious about helping suffering patients access medical marijuana? We're beginning to doubt it.
The state board charged with overseeing Iowa's medical cannabis system last week voted against recommending some much-needed improvements to the fledgling program. Under consideration were important proposals to include people with more ailments and to increase the allowable level of THC in cannabis products.
The Iowa Legislature authorized medical cannabis in 2017, and products are expected to be available starting next month, but the law is among the most restrictive in the country. There are serious doubts about whether it will provide effective relief to patients who could potentially benefit most from marijuana-related products. Fewer than 500 have obtained cannabis registration cards, according to state data published last month.
The law covers fewer than a dozen conditions. The cannabis advisory board has recommended adding severe pediatric autism and ulcerative colitis, but it also has declined to recommend adding five other conditions to the list, including post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.
The limit on THC is especially concerning, since some medical professionals and advocates say the low limit will make the treatments ineffective for many patients. Others have pointed out a volume limit would make more sense than a percentage limit, since some patients might just take more pills to get the level of THC they need.
Another of the major shortfalls is the strict limit on who can make and sell cannabis products. The law limits manufacturing licenses to two and distribution licenses to five. When the state announced distribution sites earlier this year, we were disappointed no applicants were selected from Johnson County or Linn County, which represent the state's second-largest population center.
Members of the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board and some in the Iowa Legislature favor a wait-and-see approach to Iowa's medical cannabis law, signaling they will hold off at least another year before considering any substantive changes. We think that's a mistake. The true value of the program can't be assessed unless a broad array of patients has access to the new treatments. In other words, the current system is set up to fail.
Given the restrictions, it's no wonder so few people have signed up to purchase products. The vast majority of Americans enjoy access to much more effective medical cannabis products than Iowans. We hope our regulators and legislators soon will catch up.
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