Staff Columnist

As world moves forward on marijuana legalization, Iowa is stuck

Iowa Republicans are seeking legal protection for the state's medical cannabis program; their friends in Congress aren't offering any help

This image from House Television shows the final vote, 228-164, in the House on passage of a bill to decriminalize and t
This image from House Television shows the final vote, 228-164, in the House on passage of a bill to decriminalize and tax marijuana at the federal level. The bill now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is unlikely to move forward. (House Television via AP)

Last week was a big one for marijuana reform across the world.

The United Nations narcotics commission voted to remove cannabis from its list of most restricted drugs, with backing from the United States and the World Health Organization.

The Mexican legislature advanced a full marijuana legalization bill, which is expected to earn final passage this month.

And for the first time ever, the U.S. House approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level. It adds an exclamation point to last month’s U.S. elections, when four states voted to legalize marijuana for adult use.

None of that has any tangible effect on Iowa, which is one of the worst states for pot enforcement. But it sends a clear message that the times are quickly changing and Iowa is on the wrong side of history.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act — the MORE Act — was approved with mostly Democratic votes in the U.S. House. Iowa’s three Democratic representatives voted in favor, and one Iowa Republican abstained from the vote.

The bill is not expected to clear the Republican-controlled Senate, but it’s a historic step nonetheless and offers a starting point to potential bipartisan negotiations in the next Congress.

The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the federal controlled substances schedule, clearing the way for states to legalize and regulate the substance.

Federal legal status would give states confidence that they won’t face federal enforcement, like they did during the Bush and Obama administrations. It also would give businesses access to traditional financial services and tax status, which would drive down the cost to consumers.

Even in Iowa, where there is no serious discussion of a retail marijuana program, federal legal status would be an important development, giving legal protection to Iowa’s medical CBD growers, dispensaries and patients.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law - that harms Iowa patients

In strange twist, Iowa is actually doing something right on marijuana reform

Republicans in control of the Legislature have acknowledged the incongruence with federal law. They were rebuked in 2017 for their ill-conceived ploy to import cannabis oil from neighboring states in violation of federal guidelines.

“As I’ve said before, the federal government needs to act on this issue or let the states do their work,” former Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer told the Des Moines Register at the time.

In a 2019 bill updating Iowa’s medical law, lawmakers included language directing staff to request guarantees that the cannabidiol program would not threaten participants’ eligibility for federal programs. Unfortunately, Iowa Republicans’ allies in Washington, D.C. aren’t sympathetic to our plight.

Only five Republicans and one former Republican in the U.S. House voted in favor of the MORE Act last week. Several conservative detractors feigned panic over the prospect of full-scale marijuana legalization in every state. In reality, though, federal descheduling would allow states to legalize, but wouldn’t require it.

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Ending federal marijuana prohibition is the states’ rights and limited government issue of our time, and my fellow Republicans are ceding it to the Democrats in a historic fit of political malpractice.

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

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