A new bipartisan medical cannabidiol act has been filed in the Iowa House, HF 2097, by three Iowa House Republicans, Tedd Gassman (R. Scarville), Larry Sheets (R. Moulton), Ron Jorgensen (R. Sioux City), and three Iowa House Democrats, Charlie McConkey (D. Council Bluffs), Scott Ourth (D. Ackworth), and Mary Lynn Wolfe (D. Clinton).
As many of us know, Iowa created a Medical Cannabidiol Act in 2014. Cannabidiol has gotten a lot of attention recently, including a U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hearing co-chaired by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and California Senator Diane Feinstein in 2015. Cannabidiol (“cannabis oil”) was included in the Iowa Republican Party state platform in 2014.
As critics have pointed out, there are two problems with the Medical Cannabidiol Act. First, it expires on July 1, 2017. Second, it does not provide any means of access. Proponents have called it a decriminalization bill, but examples of decriminalization bills that require a certification from a specialist in neurology and an identification card from the Iowa Department of Public Health are just impossible to find. This law uses the word “medical” which just doesn’t make any sense. Decriminalization means it’s still a crime and we’re just reducing the penalties or providing an exemption. Legalization is the term we use for things that are not crimes. It would be hard to imagine that we are now using the word “medical” to describe something we are only decriminalizing. If we continue down this path, we’re going to render language meaningless. Of course, this law could have been intentionally written poorly to invoke exactly these kinds of objections, so there may be a method to the legislature’s madness.
Discussions were held by the legislature in 2014 and one of the recommendations of the Cannabidiol Implementation Study Committee on September 11, 2014, was to grow the cannabis to make the cannabidiol, which would have solved the problem of lack of access. The three recommendations were:
- Develop a regulated program to produce, process, and dispense medical cannabis and further recommend that medical cannabis not be taxed by the state at any stage of producing, processing, or dispensing the medical cannabis.
- Reschedule marijuana from a schedule I controlled substance to a schedule II controlled substance.
- Further investigate access, standardization, and legalization of cannabidiol.
My last blog post on January 23, 2016, Iowa Republican Senators File Marijuana Reclassification Bill, explained how the Iowa Senate has been trying to change the classification of marijuana. Republicans in the Iowa Senate have a straight forward approach, filing a stand-alone marijuana rescheduling bill (SF 2025). Democrats in the Iowa Senate, on the other hand, have tried to attach marijuana rescheduling to a medical marijuana bill that doesn’t have strong Republican support in the Iowa House (SF 484) and a synthetic marijuana bill that had strong support in the Iowa House (HF 567) until the Iowa Senate Democrats attached a marijuana rescheduling amendment to it. Both SF 484 and HF 567 seem dead now. Iowa Democratic Representative Bruce Hunter has recently filed a bill similar to SF 484, but without marijuana rescheduling (HF 2087). Another synthetic marijuana bill without marijuana rescheduling has been filed in the Iowa House (HF 2049) to replace HF 567.
There is a good reason why SF 2025 is the best approach to marijuana scheduling in Iowa. When our law was written in 1971, the legislature realized it did not have the expertise to schedule controlled substances and they gave the responsibility of recommending an appropriate schedule to the Iowa Board of Pharmacy. State v. Bonjour, 694 N.W.2d 511, 514 (Iowa 2005) (“That procedure is to defer to the Board of Pharmacy Examiners, which is far better equipped than this court — and the legislature, for that matter — to make critical decisions regarding the medical effectiveness of marijuana use and the conditions, if any, it may be used to treat.”). In 2010, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended that marijuana be rescheduled from a schedule 1 controlled substance to a schedule 2 controlled substance in Iowa. Republicans are following the law. I don’t want to be too critical of the Democrats, because they have tried to attach marijuana rescheduling to other bills as amendments. But, the Republicans working on this issue are definitely following the letter of the law.
- It makes the Medical Cannabidiol Act permanent by removing the July 1, 2017, expiration date.
- It replaces the word “neurologist” with the word “physician” which makes it easier to find a doctor to make the recommendation.
- It replaces the word “epilepsy” with the phrase “debilitating medical condition” and adds two more medical conditions.
What HF 2097 does not do is provide access to cannabidiol. It will still be illegal to make it or distribute it. It also has no mechanism for the Iowa Department of Public Health to add more medical conditions. Although these are serious problems, this is definitely an improvement over the 2014 version. Possession, manufacture, and distribution of cannabidiol are federal crimes, but it’s fairly established by now that the federal government is not prosecuting patients or doctors who recommend cannabidiol (and whole cannabis in some states). This proposal would be another step in the right direction.