Iowa Senate advances medical cannabis expansion

But alternative treatment faces uncertain future in House

The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The Senate voted 45-5 Monday to approve an expanded medical marijuana law that would allow making and dispensing cannabis products in Iowa for adults to legally possess and use under a doctor’s care to treat an array of medical conditions, but under tight regulation.

“I think this is the right thing to do,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who said many of the ill people who advocated for Senate File 506 have died waiting for the Legislature to act.

Senators passed “The Compassionate Use of Cannabis Act,” a new law that would replace Iowa’s existing but limited cannabis oil statute.

It lays out an expanded approach to reclassify marijuana and open it as a limited medical alternative under tight regulation and supervision. The bill now goes to the House, where its prospects are uncertain.

“Let’s do the right thing for the people out there who are suffering,” said Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale. The bill was supported by 25 Republicans 19 Democrats and one independent, while four Republicans and one Democrat opposed it.

Under provisions of SF 506, Iowa would license up to four manufacturers to “possess, cultivate, transport or supply medical cannabis” by July 2, 2018, so up to 12 licensed dispensaries could begin distribution to qualified adult Iowans by July 16, 2018. Interested makers and dispensers would pay a non-refundable $15,000 state fee.

Patients or primary caregivers 18 or older who are permanent Iowa residents and who have been certified by a health care practitioner would be eligible to receive registration cards to procure medical cannabis to treat “debilitating” medical conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, AIDS and HIV, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, amyotrophic lateral Sclerosis — popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder or Tourette’s syndrome.

A medical advisory board made up of nine health care practitioners and three patients or primary care givers would oversee the program and consider adding illnesses if need be.

“I think this bill strikes the right balance,” said Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines. “It’s not a perfect bill, but I think it’s a good start.”

Iowa’s current 2014 law, set to expire in July, allows licensed neurologists to certify patients with intractable epilepsy to use cannabidiol products with 3 percent or less THC content.

The law does not allow other physicians to write qualifying recommendations nor does it allow for patients with any other conditions to obtain access to cannabidiol.

Schneider said Iowa’s current law is too limited and people who are eligible for cannabis oil can’t get it in Iowa.

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