Staff Columnist

Prohibition persists in Iowa - sort of

Cannabis-based therapy stuck in legal gray area

Iowa’s Medical Cannabidiol Act that became law in July 2014 allowed the use of cannabidiol, or CBD, shown here, to treat intractable epilepsy. (News 21 photo courtesy of IowaWatch)
Iowa’s Medical Cannabidiol Act that became law in July 2014 allowed the use of cannabidiol, or CBD, shown here, to treat intractable epilepsy. (News 21 photo courtesy of IowaWatch)

Cannabidiol is a safe and easily accessible treatment for aches and pains — depending on where you live in Iowa.

Commonly known as CBD, it’s a compound found in cannabis plants and is billed as a therapy for a long list of ailments, but without the strong psychoactive effects of other cannabis derivatives. It is openly sold at stores throughout Iowa, and many online retailers advertise that their CBD products can be shipped to all 50 states.

However, Iowa authorities say most CBD products still are illegal. While a few government figures have tried to crack down on what is essentially a harmless nutritional supplement, other agencies have ignored it, creating a county-by-county patchwork of enforcement practices.

Adding to the confusion, the new federal farm bill, signed by President Donald Trump last week, lifts federal restrictions on industrial hemp, which can be used to make CBD products. In a landmark moment for freedom, other states are poised to seize the opportunity by supporting the production and sale of CBD products.

“With the farm bill passing, states will feel even more comfortable about distribution of CBD. The ‘hidden’ fear or uncertainty is no longer there for states,” said Dave Briskie, president of Youngevity International, a major seller of hemp-based products.

Unfortunately, our state has fallen far behind in the deregulation movement. The federal law won’t change CBD’s legal status in Iowa, but advocates hope the quickly shifting national landscape will at least give pause to the most ardent drug warriors.

“Legally it doesn’t make any difference, but I think it will make a huge difference psychologically,” Carl Olsen, an expert on Iowa cannabis law, recently told me.

Public interest in CBD has exploded since 2014, when Iowa first passed a narrowly focused law allowing a tiny segment of patients to possess CBD products. The program expanded in 2017 to authorize a handful of producers and dispensaries. People with a qualifying condition and permission from the state government can now purchase products derived from cannabis.

But that only covers a few Iowans. Regulators have granted fewer than 1,000 medical cannabis cards to patients so far, and they can only purchase their medicine at five locations across the state. The Iowa Department of Public Health issued a memo last year advising that only products approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration or those obtained through the state system are allowed. The others remain illegal.

In at least two cases, Iowa law enforcement authorities have confiscated CBD products from business owners who were at odds with the state’s interpretation of the law, and several others have warned citizens against buying or selling CBD. Just last month, the Dubuque Police Department made a Facebook post announcing the local drug task force is investigating reports of CBD products being sold in local businesses.

“In Iowa, CBD oil is ILLEGAL, unless you have the medical marijuana ‘card,’ and then there are very specific things, such as having to buy it from one of the five state approved dispensaries,” authorities wrote, drawing dozens of negative comments.

In other communities, however, CBD sales continue unfettered. There does not appear to be any significant statewide effort to enforce CBD prohibition.

“On the retail end, with the shops around the state selling CBD that’s being imported from other states, the state is already getting retail sales tax, whether they like to admit it or not,” said Shelly Servadio, an Iowan who promotes cannabis therapy through her firm Limitless RN.

Some Iowa businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach under hemp legalization.

Marion entrepreneur Steve Shriver has been making hemp-based products for 20 years, and now imports hemp seed oil from Canada for his company Eco Lips. He once had police visit his business to make sure he wasn’t dealing with marijuana. If regulations change, he plans to explore the use of CBD in his products.

“We’re hoping that once all the dust settles, we can start manufacturing CBD products as well. At this point we’re still unsure of the future of CBD, though we’re optimistic,” Shriver told me.

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

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