Staff Columnist

Neighboring states could make Iowa's weak cannabis program obsolete

Products for sale are seen at Indispensary in Colorado Springs, a medical dispensary. Industry advocates say prices will
Products for sale are seen at Indispensary in Colorado Springs, a medical dispensary. Industry advocates say prices will eventually drop as more people buy their stash from legal outlets instead of the black market. (Kai-Huei Yau/Tri-City Herald/MCT)

Republicans nowadays have a strong affinity for locally made goods. President Donald Trump has unleashed an era of economic protectionism, waging trade wars against foreigners who sell us their products.

Iowa Republicans, however, seem to be intent on outsourcing an important commodity — political courage. Party elites are poised to let neighboring states take the lead on one of the this century’s most pressing issues of personal freedom.

That was demonstrated last week, when Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed a bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program. Under the legislation — approved in overwhelming bipartisan fashion by the Legislature this year — patients with a select few medical conditions would have been allowed to purchase products with higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Reynolds apparently doesn’t understand an important lesson of American history — prohibition doesn’t work. Where there is demand, consumers will find supply.

Iowa’s law is so impotent that some sick Iowans forego the weak products available at Iowa dispensaries in favor of illicit marijuana, which is illegally imported from states with more sensible laws. Soon, that illegal marijuana will be even easier to get than it already is.

Policymakers in nearby Illinois and Minnesota are giving serious consideration to proposals that would authorize retail sales of cannabis products.

In 2018, Minnesota voters elected marijuana-friendly Gov. Tim Walz. A bipartisan bill to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana was killed this year by a Republican-controlled state Senate panel, but the proposal inevitably will re-emerge next year, and supporters remain hopeful.


Similarly, Illinois voters elected pro-legalization Gov. J.B. Pritzker last November. Policymakers there are nearing the end of the legislative session, with an expansive marijuana legalization proposal still under consideration. If it’s not voted through this year, it surely will be in the next couple years.

Among other neighbors, Iowa already is in sad company with South Dakota in having the Midwest’s worst drug laws.

Once a neighboring state has a functioning retail marijuana program, Iowa authorities will be powerless against the flow of green buds coming through our borders.

Libertarians and pot enthusiasts will celebrate, but that reality will be concerning to public health advocates. Lacking a workable medical cannabis program, Iowa patients will be forced into medicating themselves with lightly regulated products, outside the purview of medical professionals.

There is a long-shot ploy to change course. Democrats in the Legislature are asking colleagues to convene a special session, in order to entertain a vote overriding Reynolds’ veto of the medical cannabis bill. Their prospects are grim, but it’s a fight worth waging.

The idea of elderly Iowans with chronic pain driving across state lines to obtain natural pain relief — from a drug with zero known overdose deaths in all of world history — should disgust and embarrass all of us. Iowa’s mercilessly outdated drug laws are nothing short of shameful.

Sadly, this is the path Reynolds and other prohibitionists have set us on.

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