Staff Columnist

Iowa is putting people in jail for the crime of non-toxic pain relief

Iowa suffered no ill effects from the non-enforcement of CBD prohibition. Why start now?

A business in Iowa advertises CBD products on its door. Iowa authorities recently arrested a woman for illegally selling
A business in Iowa advertises CBD products on its door. Iowa authorities recently arrested a woman for illegally selling products containing CBD. (Union photo by Ashley Duong)

Iowa continues to make a name for itself as one of the very worst places for freedom.

The latest embarrassment in Iowa’s campaign to keep the drug war alive comes from Polk County, where the local drug task force last week arrested a local store owner who is accused of selling unlicensed products containing cannabidiol, or CBD, which is a non-toxic and non-intoxicating component found in marijuana and hemp.

The investigation and arrest reportedly stemmed from complaints brought to law enforcement officials. Several other businesses in Iowa say they have received visits from police, with threats of possible federal charges if they sell illegal products.

The latest law enforcement crackdown has pit Iowa’s cannabis advocates against each other. Some activists spread an unsubstantiated rumor that MedPharm Iowa, one of the few government-approved CBD manufacturers and distributors in Iowa, had complained about the unregulated sellers. One Des Moines store that previously sold CBD even posted a sign repeating that claim.

MedPharm leaders published a statement to refute that story, saying they had no involvement in reporting their unlicensed competitors to the government.

“While plenty of issues remain with Iowa’s medical cannabis program and Iowa’s hemp/CBD program, or lack thereof, inflammatory and misinformed discussions only undermine the future progress in this state, for all Iowans,” MedPharm officials said.

Understandably, Iowans are uncertain about the legality of CBD, which is quickly gaining popularity for its purported health benefits. It’s an alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals with nasty side effects, and to whole-plant cannabis that can make users feel “high” and remains highly illegal for all Iowans.

The Iowa Legislature first passed a law in 2014 allowing a few select patients to legally possess CBD, but didn’t offer a way to obtain the medicine. In 2017, the state went further with a system to produce and distribute CBD to qualifying patients, but it remains one of the country’s most restrictive medical cannabis programs. To date, only about 4,200 Iowans are covered by the program, and medicine can only be purchased at five heavily regulated dispensaries.


Mass confusion set in after the passage of the 2018 federal farm bill, which ended national prohibition on the production of hemp, from which CBD can be derived. Some CBD advocates interpreted that as de facto legalization of CBD in all 50 states, although law enforcement officials — including Iowa’s governor and attorney general — disagreed.

The poorly kept secret in all of this is that products containing small amounts of CBD have been openly available for many years, including through internet sales and from some brick-and-mortar retailers in Iowa. It wasn’t until the CBD boom of the last few years that anyone seemed to know or care that it was technically illegal.

And guess what? Iowa suffered no ill effects from the non-enforcement of CBD prohibition.

It is immoral — not to mention a horrible waste of taxpayer resources — to put peaceful people in cages for engaging in commerce with a substance that is no more harmful than baby aspirin. Iowa policymakers should give police something better to do with their time.

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