Staff Columnist

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

'Patients would no longer be federal fugitives and we'd no longer be aiding and abetting in their crimes.'

Cannabis plants grow inside the mother room at MedPharm Iowa in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jul. 24, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The
Cannabis plants grow inside the mother room at MedPharm Iowa in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jul. 24, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa is one of the worst states in the nation for common-sense marijuana reform, but we’re finally doing something proactive.

State cannabis regulators plan to seek an exemption from the federal Controlled Substances Act, they said at a meeting this month. Iowa could be the first state to receive such an exemption, earning federal legal status a long list of tangible benefits to the state government, businesses and patients.

While states have been experimenting with marijuana legalization for more than 40 years, the drug, which is far less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, still is illegal under federal law. Inexplicably, It’s considered a Schedule I substance, even worse than cocaine and Vicodin, with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.


Even if the feds don’t send SWAT teams to bust up the Windsor Heights strip mall where a medical cannabis dispensary sells tinctures to grandmothers, there are a lot of good reasons for Iowa to bring its program in line with federal law.


As recently as 2013, under the Obama administration, the federal government was running raids on marijuana businesses that were legal by state law. While the Trump administration’s early suggestions of a marijuana crackdown have faded, the possibility of federal enforcement action persists.

Even if the feds don’t send SWAT teams to bust up the Windsor Heights strip mall where a medical cannabis dispensary sells tinctures to grandmothers, there are a lot of good reasons for Iowa to bring its program in line with federal law.

Politicians worry their violation of federal law could threaten their flow of federal cash. This year in Maine, for example, the federal government revoked more than $3 million in grants for children’s health programs because the state allows medical cannabis use at school.

Even more importantly, federal legal recognition would give marijuana businesses access to the same tax status and financial services as similar legal businesses, which could significantly improve access and decrease cost for patients.

Iowa passed a law this year that tinkers with the cannabis program, including a section directing staff to “request guarantees” that schools and long-term care facilities won’t lose federal funding if they administer medical CBD.

In cruel twist, Iowa GOP bill would snatch medicine from patients’ hands

Neighboring states’ marijuana laws show just how bad Iowa is

The way to secure funding is to ask the federal government to exempt Iowa’s program from marijuana prohibition, leaders said at the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board meeting last week. Carl Olsen, a top medical marijuana advocate in Iowa, has lobbied state government officials for more than a year to seek compliance with federal law through a federal exemption.

“It’s kind of ridiculous to ask for a federal funding guarantee for a violation of federal drug laws … A federal solution exists so that must be used,” Olsen said at the Sept. 4 board meeting.

Under federal code, anyone can apply to the Drug Enforcement Administration for an exemption, and the DEA administrator “may grant an exception in his discretion.” State officials plan to prepare an exemption application and submit it before the end of the year.

Nobody knows if the exemption will be granted, or the full legal implications if it is. It is a bureaucratic, uncertain and long drawn out solution to a problem that could have been solved by elected officials any time over the last half century.

“Patients would no longer be federal fugitives and we’d no longer be aiding and abetting in their crimes,” said Dr. Robert Shreck, an Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board member.

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

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