Staff Columnist

Again, lawmakers deliver last-minute cannabis bill. Will Reynolds sign it?

Bipartisan support among lawmakers continues to grow

Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives for the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives for the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

In three of the past six legislative sessions, lawmakers waited until the very last day to approve bills expanding access to medical cannabis. Each time, support for medical freedom has grown.

The fact that tired and ornery politicians keep making time for medical cannabis during their year-end marathons reflects growing support among the public. Lawmakers who were once skeptical of marijuana have been persuaded by constituents’ persistent advocacy.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has not yet said whether she will sign the bill, should recognize this is a winning issue for Iowa politicians.

In the final days of the 2014 session, lawmakers struck a compromise on what would become the weakest medical marijuana law in the country. It allowed a select few patients to seek permission to possess cannabidiol oil, but did not provide any production or distribution.

Among 150 lawmakers in the Iowa Legislature, 28 voted against that bill. Advocates complained the law left patients without a legal way to obtain their medicine, but political scorekeepers told us it was the best they could do.

Again in 2017, lawmakers spent their final hours working out a bill to expand the medical cannabis program. The final product — earning legislative approval in the early morning hours following an all-nighter — allowed for production of medical marijuana products for the first time.

On the final votes, 18 lawmakers dissented. Several Democrats voted against that year’s bill after Republican colleagues snubbed their much more robust proposal, which would have allowed more treatment methods and covered more medical conditions.

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This year, lawmakers introduced several bills to modernize marijuana laws, but like previous years, lawmakers waited almost until the last minute of the session to give final approval to a stronger medical cannabis proposal. It replaces the 3 percent cap on THC in medical products with a grams-per-month limit, which many patients and advocates prefer.

Just 11 senators and representatives, all Republicans, voted against House File 732. Several Republicans enthusiastically applauded the legislation, a sharp contrast to five years ago when Republican support was grudging at best.

Even Sen. Joe Bolkcom — the state government’s most vocal advocate for marijuana liberalization and one of the Democrats who voted against the 2017 bill — acknowledged last week the new bill is a “big improvement.”

While the House approved the bill overwhelmingly in March, some members withdrew their support after members of the Medical Cannabidiol Board recommended a much lower THC limit than the legislation called for.

Republican Rep. Steve Holt voted for the bill, but told the Des Moines Register this month he would ask Reynolds to veto it.

That about-face is disappointing. Some patients need sizable doses of THC to effectively treat their ailments. It is worth noting that there are zero documented cases of fatal overdoses from medical marijuana, while deaths from common prescription painkillers in the United States total thousands each year.

Medical cannabis holds great promise for suffering Iowans. With Reynolds’ signature, more Iowans will be able to realize that potential.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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