Government

GOP-led Legislature won't override veto of Iowa's expanded medical cannabis bill

Democrats urge colleagues to call for special session

Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City and Rep. John Forbes of Urbandale, held a Statehouse news conference Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City and Rep. John Forbes of Urbandale, held a Statehouse news conference Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A key Republican leader of the Iowa Legislature has ruled out a special session to override Gov. Kim Reynolds’ veto of the proposed expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program, saying such a meeting would be “ill-advised” since lawmakers likely don’t have the votes to override.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said her preference would be to “bring everyone to the table” during the interim, as Reynolds has suggested, in hopes of crafting a new bill that more closely mirrors recommendations by the state board that oversees Iowa’s medical cannabis program.

House File 732, which passed the Iowa House, 96-3, and the Iowa Senate, 40-7, would have removed the 3 percent cap on how much THC — the chemical in marijuana that creates the user’s high sensation — could be in a medical cannabis product and instead limited the amount of medical cannabis a patient can be prescribed at any one time to 25 grams over 90 days.

Reynolds said she vetoed the proposal because the cap of 25 grams over 90 days would allow an individual to consume more THC per day than a recreational marijuana user. The governor said she deferred to the state medical cannabis board, which recommended a cap of just 4.5 grams per 90 days.

“When that legislation first passed the House, it was done so based on what we now know was conflicting information,” Upmeyer said in a statement Wednesday. “While there were many good things in the bill, I don’t know if it has the consensus necessary at this point to override a veto, so a special session would be ill-advised.”

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, while Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said the governor was “a no on the special session.”

Two legislative Democrats, Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City and Rep. John Forbes of Urbandale, held a Statehouse news conference Wednesday to urge their legislative colleagues from both political parties to join their call for a special session to override the governor. Forbes said 47 House Democrats favored the call while Bolkcom was confident of support within his 18-member caucus.

“The governor’s last-minute veto was devastating to Iowans suffering from debilitating conditions like cancer, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease who worked for years to pass this legislation,” said Forbes, a pharmacist for nearly 40 years.

“But because they lived in Iowa, some died without access to effective medicines,” Forbes added. “Enough is enough. The 96 members of the Iowa House and the 40 members of the Iowa Senate who voted to help these Iowans must stand up and defend their votes.”

Bolkcom said Iowa now remains one of 16 “low THC states” while 33 others have no limits on medical cannabis products that have proved to be less expensive and more effective that addictive opioids in addressing the chronic ailments covered by the vetoed legislation.

“Gov. Reynolds’ veto of the modest improvements to Iowa’s medical cannabis program is so heartbreaking to sick, vulnerable and, in some cases, dying Iowans,” Bolkcom said.

“Iowa should no longer have the nation’s worst medical cannabis program,” said Bolkcom in urging at two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber — 67 in the House and 34 in the Senate — to request a special session of the Legislature to take action to override the GOP governor’s veto.

Bolkcom said legislators should “fix” the problem now, but Upmeyer said “the best way forward is to bring everyone to the table over the interim to craft a new bill” based on the most recent recommendations from the state’s medical cannabis board.

Bob Lewis, a Des Moines business owner who suffers from several chronic medical conditions, was among those attending the news conference who favored raising the THC limit on the cannabis products being sold in the five Iowa dispensaries. He says he gets stronger doses illegally and will continue to do so if the current law is not changed.

“You know, we consider ourselves a Christian nation. I don’t think it’s a Christian thing to do to make people suffer when there’s something out there that may relieve their pain,” he told reporters after the meeting.

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“Without the cannabis, my pain level would be through the roof. If I did not have the cannabis, I would have tears in my eyes,” Lewis said. “Please, legislators, get back here and get this thing taken care of like you voted in the first place.”

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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