2020 Session Must Fix Iowa’s Medical Cannabis Program

Representative John Forbes and Senator Joe Bolkcom argue for reforms to Iowa's "worst in the nation" medical cannabis program in a news conference at the Iowa Statehouse on Friday, November 15, 2019.

(Des Moines)  Improved health care for tens of thousands of Iowans depends on passing major reforms of Iowa’s medical cannabis program during the 2020 session according to two legislative leaders on this issue.

At a statehouse news conference today, Senator Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City and Representative John Forbes of Urbandale listed reasons why the 2020 session will determine whether Iowa’s struggling medical cannabis program is able to improve.

“Time is running out.  Recreational cannabis sales in Illinois will soon be undercutting Iowa’s legal, regulated medical cannabis businesses,” said Senator Bolkcom.  “As that program expands, it threatens the goal of making affordable, regulated medicines available to Iowans regardless of where they live.”

For the last six years, legislators have debated various efforts to establish a working medical cannabis program. 

“Iowa’s state government has so far failed to meet the needs of Iowans,” said Representative Forbes, an Urbandale pharmacist.  “Today, less than 4,000 Iowans have managed to become approved to legally purchase medicines made from cannabis.  That’s far less than the number that could be helped and not nearly enough to create a viable system.  The vast majority of all Americans live in states that have successfully created regulated, affordable, sustainable medical cannabis programs.  Why not Iowa?”

In 2019, the Iowa House and Senate overwhelmingly approved major reforms to Iowa’s medical cannabis program.  The reforms would have expanded the number of conditions and made other changes that would have made Iowa’s program more similar to successful programs in other states.  After the session ended, Governor Reynolds unexpectedly vetoed that legislation.  Republicans, who control both chambers, unanimously refused to override Reynold’s veto.

“Eliminating Iowa’s current 3% cap on the level of THC is very important for some patients with severe medical conditions,” said Representative Forbes.  “Adopting the standard of a 25 grams/90 days purchase cap would provide effective, affordable medication and put Iowa in line with what other states have done.””

“When faced with serious, life threatening medical conditions, Iowans want better choices than opiods and other potentially dangerous drugs,” said Bolkcom.  “In just the first half of 2019, Iowa doctors wrote 850,000 prescriptions for narcotics.  Why are we preventing Iowans from having access to less dangerous alternatives?”

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Representative John Forbes and Senator Joe Bolkcom argue for reforms to Iowa’s “worst in the nation” medical cannabis program in a news conference at the Iowa Statehouse on Friday, November 15, 2019.

Key reforms for Iowa’s “Worst in the Nation” Medical Cannabis Program

  • Eliminate the 3% THC cap and adopt a 25 grams/90 days purchase cap to provide effective, affordable medicine.
  • Add additional chronic conditions, including PTSD. (See the list from SF 506, the legislation overwhelmingly approved last year by the Iowa House and Senate.)
  • Allow twelve more dispensaries, particularly in small towns and rural Iowa.
  • Allow other practitioners, such as PAs, ARNPs and podiatrists, to certify medical conditions.
  • Revise the membership of the Advisory Board to include at least three medical cannabis patients.
  • Eliminate the Iowa Department of Transportation from the cannabis card process and allow IDPH to issue cards directly. Lower the cost to apply for a card to $25.
  • Eliminate the Iowa Board of Medicine from the process of getting approval for new conditions and cannabis products.
  • Add additional chronic conditions, including PTSD. (See the list from SF 506, the legislation overwhelmingly approved last year by the Iowa House and Senate.)

Additional Conditions for Iowa’s Medical Cannabis Program

Stop forcing sick Iowans to come to the Capitol and beg legislators for treatment options that could help them.

Instead, Iowa should simply adopt the conditions covered by most other states.  That would mean adding the conditions listed below.

  • Glaucoma
  • Hepatitis C
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Complex regional pain syndrome, type I and II
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Polyarteritis nodosa