Nobody in Iowa believes our heavily restricted medical cannabis law will work.
That barely is an overstatement. It’s the overwhelming conclusion among patients, advocates and medical professionals across our state who can see the state’s heavy-handed regulations threaten to suffocate the program before a single Iowan is helped.
The law’s shortcomings have been well-documented over the past year. To name a few, it doesn’t cover enough conditions, doesn’t permit adequate levels of the medically beneficial chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, and doesn’t allow for enough distribution locations, with the closest dispensaries to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City being in Waterloo and Davenport.
Most frustrating is the fact there is substantial political support in the Iowa Legislature to fix those problems, but a small group of partisan elites have squelched reform efforts.
A last-minute push to expand the program as part of a bill addressing the opioid epidemic failed this week in Des Moines. The measure appeared to have majority support in the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate, but was withdrawn following reports Iowa House leaders would snub the whole bill if it included marijuana language.
Then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed the medical cannabis law a year ago this month. Since then, only about 300 patients and 100 caregivers have been approved for registration cards through the Iowa Department of Public Health. Another 326 were approved under an even weaker 2014 law.
Those disappointingly low figures aren’t a product of bureaucrats frivolously denying applications — denials total only about two dozen under both laws. Instead, few Iowans are applying because they have little hope the extremely narrow program will offer any meaningful relief.
As it stands, .02 percent of Iowans will be permitted to access government-approved medical marijuana products when they become available later this year. That leaves Iowa on the bottom rung among all states, according to a tally by the Marijuana Policy Project.
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To put it in perspective, the portion of the population in neighboring Minnesota with the government’s permission to use marijuana as medicine is more than six times as high as Iowa’s. Even some politically conservative states such as Montana and Arizona have granted medical cards to more than 1 percent of their populations.
There is little doubt the medical marijuana movement eventually will spread to every state, it’s only a question of how long it will take. The prohibitionists realize that, but have chosen to delay the inevitable.
Politicians may not mind waiting another year or two, but thousands of Iowans whose lives could be vastly improved by medical cannabis don’t have that luxury.
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