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State panel backs including chronic pain under Iowa medical cannabis law

Board draws fire for not allowing PTSD, opioid dependency, other medical conditions

Cannabis plants are shown in July 2018 inside the MedPharm Iowa plant in Des Moines. On Friday, Lucas Nelson, general manager for MedPharm, expressed frustration when the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board refused to add PTSD and other medical conditions for coverage under Iowa’s  medical cannabis law. (The Gazette)
Cannabis plants are shown in July 2018 inside the MedPharm Iowa plant in Des Moines. On Friday, Lucas Nelson, general manager for MedPharm, expressed frustration when the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board refused to add PTSD and other medical conditions for coverage under Iowa’s medical cannabis law. (The Gazette)

ANKENY — A state panel Friday approved a recommendation to drop untreatable pain and instead list a more-easily defined chronic pain as a qualifying condition under Iowa’s medical cannabis law. But they rejected or tabled other maladies sought by patients and advocates.

The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board chose not to proceed with support for post-traumatic stress disorder, opioid dependency, anxiety disorders and other medical conditions for qualifying under Iowa’s medical marijuana program.

The board could revisit the issue at its November meeting if more data or research is available.

Among the conditions allowed under the program now are cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures; AIDS or HIV, Crohn’s disease; ALS, Parkinson’s disease and other terminal diseases.

Friday’s decision came after patients, legislators, medical experts, representatives of manufacturers and dispensaries and others testified to the pros and cons of expanding Iowa’s medical cannabis law, which makes some marijuana-derived products available for medical use but limits tetrahydrocannabinol, or the psychoactive component of cannabis known as THC.

“All these roadblocks you’re doing, you’re really hurting people,” said Ray Lakers, who has multiple sclerosis.

Yes to CBD, no to thc

However, Peter Komendowski of the Partnership for A Healthy Iowa commended the board members for their “good work,” telling those in attendance “it’s time to say yes to CBD and no to THC.”

In the last days of the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers approved a proposal to expand aspects of the medical cannabidiol program, including patient access and the type of providers who can recommend treatment.

However, Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed House File 732, in part based on advice of Medical Cannabidiol board members who opposed replacing a 3 percent THC cap on medical cannabis products and replacing it with a limit of 25 grams over 90 days. Board members said that was too much and favored a THC limit for patients of 4.5 grams every 90 days.

‘Not about a party’

State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, a strong proponent of House File 732, told board members they shared the blame for Iowa having “the nation’s worst medical cannabis program” that is “cumbersome and bureaucratic” for patients and has standards that make the medicine too expensive and “not potent enough to help most people.”

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“The board’s misplaced obsession with THC has clouded your ability to actually help people,” he said. “THC is medicine and Iowa patients are capable of managing it. This is not about having a party. It’s about helping people that are dying and sick.

Illinois sales coming

Lucas Nelson, general manager for MedPharm, an authorized CBD manufacturer in Des Moines, expressed frustration after pushing unsuccessfully for the state board to recommend to the Iowa Board of Medicine and the Iowa Board of Health to add PTSD, opioid dependency and other medical conditions to the approved list.

“There’s no longer time to proceed slowly,” warned Nelson, who worried a Jan. 1 law in Illinois making recreational marijuana legal in that border state will lure Iowa patients and could put MedPharm and the Iowa program in jeopardy.

“Other than the clarification on that pain definition, which I do think was helpful and a no-brainer, it appears everything was tabled, pushed away, the can kicked down the road again,” Nelson said after the meeting. It’s frustrating to say the least.”

‘Time running out’

During the board meeting, Owen Parker, the board’s program manager, said sales in Iowa since medical cannabis products became available last December have approached $1.34 million, with roughly 3,500 patients registered under the law.

Nelson said the figure is much higher in other states where similar products are available.

“The board continues to disregard the needs of patients, people that are suffering from PTSD, people that are addicted to opioids that want to have a safer alternative,” Bolkcom said after Friday’s board meeting.

“Until we put the needs of sick, suffering Iowans at the forefront of this program, we’re just not going to get it right,” he added.

“I think the challenge for the solvency and the future of this program — the time’s running out. Once Illinois becomes a possible place for Iowa medical cannabis patients to get medicine, they’re going to seek it there because it’s going to be cheaper and it’s going to be more effective.”

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

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