Iowa House approves Governor-backed medical cannabis bill, as public support rises

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On Tuesday, March 10, Republican lawmakers approved amendments made to Iowa’s medical cannabis program that would replace the existing percentage-based limit on medical cannabis products. The changes were supported by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Previously, a maximum of three percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) was permitted in Iowa’s medical cannabis products. Now that the Iowa House has approved the bill’s amendment’s, patients can possess no more than 4.5 grams of the psychoactive compound during a 90-day period. However, the THC limit could be exceeded if a doctor feels that the amount is necessary to relieve their ailment(s)/condition(s). Another recently-approved exception applies for terminally ill patients who require higher amounts of THC to relieve their symptoms.

The bill to amend Iowa’s medical cannabis program passed with a 52-46 vote. A state advisory board made the recommendation to amend rules for the state’s patient program, which allows patients to buy concentrates, extracts, capsules, lotions, ointments and tinctures. Smokable forms of medical cannabis are currently illegal in Iowa; whether it is for medical or recreational purposes.

Amendments to Iowa’s medical cannabis program may leave some patients with less access

State Representative John Forbes D-Urbandale is one of many Democrats who thinks that the amendments to Iowa’s medical cannabis program will put a spanner in the works. Forbes says that the new 4.5-gram limit would be “a big step backwards” in comparison with the existing law. This dose works out at around 50 milligrams a day; less than than what is currently available.

Forbes, who also works as a pharmacist, says that some of his patients are already being prescribed more THC than what will be offered under the amended version of Iowa’s medical cannabis bill. However, it is a stark contrast from the bi-partisan bill that was vetoed by Gov. Reynolds in 2019; one that would allow patients to obtain 25 grams of THC or more over a 90-day period.

“I’ve had a couple of patients tell me if we pass legislation that limits it to the 50 milligrams per day, which is the 4.5 grams per 90 days, they will probably drop off the program and they’ll have to have something for pain relief, so they’ll go back on their opioid medications,” he explained.

Support for legal cannabis in Iowa is at an all-time high

Medicinal-grade CBD oil was legalized in Iowa upon the passing of Senate Bill 2360 on April 23, 2014; succeeding with a vote of 36-12. Then, in 2017, Iowa’s medical cannabis program expanded the number of diseases for CBD treatment. Included in the list of diseases were cancer, chronic pain, Crohn’s disease, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Now, as the medical cannabis program continues to advance, so does the level of support for recreational cannabis legalization in Iowa. Since 2013, eight polls have been conducted to determine how many Iowans support legalization for adult-use purposes, with the most recent Iowa poll – carried out in March 2020 – revealing that 53 percent of Iowans want a legislative initiative, whereas 41 percent do not approve of the idea.

Based on the results of the same poll, 75 percent of individuals aged below 35 years support legalization of recreational cannabis in Iowa; 56 percent of individuals aged 35-54 support legalization; 34 percent of individuals aged 55 and older support legalization. The gender divide wasn’t overly different, with 54 percent of men supporting recreational cannabis legalization in Iowa and 53 percent of women. Democrats make up the vast majority of supporters.