2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Iowa Democratic lawmakers try again on medical cannabis

They seek interim committee after governor vetoed latest expansion

Medical cannabis products are available to qualified patients at state-sanctioned dispensaries such as this one operated by MedPharm Iowa in Windsor Heights. A bill to expand the program further received broad bipartisan support earlier this year in the Iowa Legislature, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Kim Reynolds who sought a more cautious approach. (Scott Morgan/freelance)
Medical cannabis products are available to qualified patients at state-sanctioned dispensaries such as this one operated by MedPharm Iowa in Windsor Heights. A bill to expand the program further received broad bipartisan support earlier this year in the Iowa Legislature, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Kim Reynolds who sought a more cautious approach. (Scott Morgan/freelance)

Two Democratic lawmakers who led an effort to expand the state medical marijuana program are trying one more effort to make the treatments available for more people and more conditions.

After a bill expanding the program was vetoed by Gov. Kim Reynolds — and an effort to get lawmakers to override her veto failed to win support from majority Republicans — Sen. Joe Bolkcom and Rep. John Forbes are asking legislative leaders to form an interim committee to consider “the best way to reform and improve Iowa’s medical cannabis program.”

“All we need to do is focus on helping suffering families. That’s it,” said Forbes, an Urbandale pharmacist. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. All Iowa has to do is approve what’s working in other states and get the heck out of the way.”

In a letter sent to House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, Bolkcom and Forbes said an interim committee of legislators would provide a process for increasing the likelihood that science-based evidence, “not personal feelings and opinions,” are the basis for new legislation.

“There is too much misinformation out there about the current law,” they wrote.

Their request will be considered when the Legislative Council meets Thursday.

The Iowa Legislature overwhelmingly approved House File 732 to expand the 5-year-old medical cannabis program. It passed the House 96-3 and the Senate 40-7 at the end of the 2019 session. However, the Republican governor vetoed the expansion, saying the bill opened the door to medical cannabis that was more potent than illegal marijuana.

Having an interim committee consider the topic “would be educational for everyone involved,” according to Bolkcom and Forbes.

“Year after year, Iowa families have traveled to the Statehouse pleading for help,” said Bolkcom, who is from Iowa City. “After listening to Iowans, we should hammer out a fix that is ready to go the day the 2020 session begins in January.”

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Doing that through an interim committee would ensure that legislation is developed in public meetings where Iowans with an interest in this issue have a chance to listen, learn and weigh in on this important issue.

“We’ve always found that an open, transparent process serves is always the best route for elected officials and their constituents,” they wrote.

An interim committee also would guarantee that Republican and Democratic legislators could develop bipartisan legislation that will pass in the early days of the 2020 legislative session and have the support of Reynolds, they said.

“Too many Iowans have waited too long for an effective, affordable medical cannabis program,” Forbes and Bolkcom said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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