Gov. Reynolds rules out recreational pot in Iowa

She wants 'cautious' approach to expanding medical use

Gov. Kim Reynolds (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Illinois is slated to become the 11th state to legalize marijuana when dispensaries begin offering products for recreational use as soon as Jan. 1, but Gov. Kim Reynolds says next-door Iowa will not join that growing list of states under her watch.

“I do not support recreational marijuana. I don’t,” Reynolds said Friday in an interview with The Gazette. “I won’t be the governor to do that.”

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and Reynolds raised concerns that state law enforcement and transportation officials are reporting that drug-related traffic deaths have surpassed fatalities caused by drunken drivers — which points to the need for more education about the dangers associated with impaired driving.

“I just think that when the data continues to come in, especially with the strength that we’re seeing, the potency, the amount of psychotic episodes that are happening, it’s a gateway and there are statistics there to support that.” Reynolds said.

She draws a distinction, however, between the use of marijuana for recreation and for the treatment of pain and other conditions.

“Medical is different. I think we need to be cautious and careful. I think we’re seeing the benefits from the cannabidiol oil that has none or very little of the THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in it and it’s having an impact,” she said.

However, the Republican governor earlier this year vetoed an expansion of the medical cannabis program that lawmakers approved with bipartisan support at the end of the 2019 legislative session.


Supporters of the expansion, House File 732, which passed the House 96-3 and the Senate 40-7, made one last push last week to get Republican support for a special session to override the veto.

But absent support of the GOP majority in the House and Senate, they have conceded their attempts to make medical cannabis available for Iowans with more medical conditions will have to wait until next year.

Although 136 of the 150 Iowa legislators voted to support what Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, called modest improvements in the five-year-old medical cannabis program, not one Republican joined the call for a special session.

“I’m really disappointed in that,” he said during a Facebook Live chat this week.

He told supporters of expansion he was hoping Republicans would “put their constituents who suffer from a whole host of really bad medical conditions ahead of the party, the governor’s desire not to come back and, of course, ahead of big drug company profits. It’s time to come back to Des Moines and fix this law.”

The GOP majority, however, showed no interest in overriding the only bill Reynolds vetoed in its entirety this year.

“The only thing out of that piece of legislation that I did not agree with and that the (Medical Cannabidiol) Board adamantly did not agree with — we had one of the members resign because of it — was just the exponential jump that they went from: a 3 percent cap to 25 grams over 90 days,” Reynolds said.

A single gummie sold in Colorado that can produce a “high” has between 5 and 20 milligrams of THC, she said, but HF 732 would have allowed 277 milligrams of THC a day “and that’s recreational marijuana and I don’t support that,” the governor said.


Reynolds said she will work with lawmakers before the 2020 session “because I agree with all of the other aspects that were in that bill. We just need to find some common ground on how much and where we’re willing to go on the increase in the THC.”

Bolkcom said that even though Republicans have been in control of the state lawmaking agenda now for three legislative sessions, “we have not moved one iota forward to improve this program,” he said.

However, in the first year of the recent GOP control, lawmakers did pass House File 524 in 2017, which expanded a small medical cannabis program approved in 2014 that critics had said was unworkable.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, dismissed Bolkcom’s effort as “another round of political grandstanding and false implications (that) will not alter our plan to implement an effective and appropriate medical cannabis program in Iowa.”

The Republican caucus is committed to working with Reynolds, the House and the Medical Cannabidiol Board “to identify the appropriate legal parameters to ensure a sustainable medical cannabis program for the individuals truly in of this medicine.”

But not enough Iowans have access to medical cannabis as an alternative to “powerful, dangerous, highly addictive drugs,” Bolkcom said, referring to opioids.

Since the beginning of the year, Bolkcom said, more than 900,000 prescriptions have been written for Iowans.

More than half were for opioids like fentanyl. According to him, 70 percent of Iowans on the current program get medical cannabis because of severe pain and chronic pain. By using medical cannabis they have been able to move away from opioids.


“We really do need to fix this program so it’s affordable, so patients get the medication they need,” he said. “We have the worst, most expensive, ineffective program in the country.”

Bolkcom also called for expanding the number of medical cannabis dispensaries so Iowans have access regardless of where they live. Though there are more than 800 pharmacies, there are only five dispensaries where Iowans can get medical cannabis.

“Most of rural Iowa doesn’t have access,” he said. In 22 counties, there are from one to five patients.

“But we know there are people with cancer in every county who could benefit from medical cannabis for pain control,” Bolcom said. “It’s time we end this needless suffering because we can.”

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