Efforts to expand access to medical marijuana appear dead in the 2018 Iowa Legislature, amid strong opposition by House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.
The Iowa Senate was prepared Monday to consider an amendment to a bill to combat opioid abuse that would have broadened Iowa's medical cannabis law. But Sen. Thomas Greene, R-Burlington, a pharmacist who supports medical marijuana, said he withdrew the amendment with regrets.
Greene said House Republicans had promised to kill the entire bill to address opioid addiction if it included medical marijuana language. He wasn't willing to do that amid reports that hundred of Iowans have been dying from opioid overdoses.
"Medical cannabis is an issue that needs to move," Greene said in remarks on the Senate floor. "This is an issue that cannot be put off year after year after year." He urged Iowans who support expanded access to medical marijuana to contact their state legislators to voice concerns.
The Senate voted 45-5 last year for a broad medical marijuana bill, which would have allowed the medication to be used for many conditions. But on the last day of the 2017 session, the Senate agreed to a stricter House bill, which limited the kinds of products that may be sold and the categories of patients who may buy them.
The Senate had been considering a proposal this session to lift a controversial 3 percent cap on THC, the psychoactive chemical that makes recreational marijuana users high. It also would make it easier for doctors to authorize the use of marijuana products to treat pain and let them authorize its use for any medical condition for which they believed it would help.
The current law only allows the products' use for a list of nine conditions, including seizures, cancer, Parkinson's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease.
The Senate proposal would have continued to limit the types of marijuana products that could be sold in Iowa. Marijuana in leaf form would not be available for medical purposes. Iowa's sole authorized producer plans to make creams, oils and capsules.
Greene's decision to withdraw his amendment came after House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, made it clear she isn't ready to make major changes to expand Iowa's medical marijuana program. She said she wants to wait to hear recommendations from a state advisory board set up under last year's legislation. Gov. Kim Reynolds has agreed with Upmeyer's stance on the issue.
Upmeyer, a cardiology nurse practioner, pointed out that the earliest sales of medical marijuana products will begin in Iowa will be December. "I think we will be back in time to make changes" during the 2019 Legislature's session, if changes are recommended by the state board, she added.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, expressed disappointment that medical marijuana was not included in the legislation to combat opioid addiction that was approved by the Senate Monday on a 48-0 vote.
Bolkcom said marijuana can be an effective pain reducer for people who only have access to very powerful, highly addictive drugs. He complained that Iowa House Republicans have been "raging incrementalists" on the issue of medical marijuana while lawmakers in Illinois, Pennsylvania and other states have been more aggressive in looking to medical marijuana to combat opioid abuse.
"We have a program that doesn't work today. Part of the problem for the solution of opioid abuse is to have an effective program" for medical cannabis, Bolkcom said.
In a related matter, MedPharm Iowa, the only licensed manufacturer of medical cannabidiol in the state, said it is hosting a press conference at the Iowa Capitol at 3 p.m. Tuesday to urge lawmakers to pass Senate File 2405, which would expand access to medical marijuana.