Medical marijuana expansion bill in works


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Varad Diwate

An expanded medical marijuana bill, allowing for production and distribution in Iowa, is in the works in the Iowa House of Representatives.

The bill that made its way through the House Commerce Subcommittee will also go through the Ways and Means Committee before going for a vote in the full House.

The bill, H.S.B. 607, introduced by state Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, expands the legislation passed in 2014 to allow for distribution of medical marijuana through state-certified dispensaries. The bill also expands use for patients with multiple sclerosis and terminal cancer.

It was passed 17-6 in the House Commerce Committee last week.

A version of the bill passed by the state Senate last year allowed medical marijuana use for several more conditions; however, the bill died before it reached the House.   

Advocates say the proposed legislation can solve problems associated with existing medical marijuana policy. Current law allows for possession of cannabidiol, or CBD, for those with severe epilepsy and a state registry identification card.

The oil cannot have more than 3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. There is no provision for production or distribution of medical marijuana in the state. As per federal law, transporting any form of the drug across state lines also remains an offense.

“This bill is fairly significant as it was introduced by a House Republican,” said Sally Gaer, one of the proponents of medical marijuana legislation in the state.

Gaer was involved with the legislation passed in 2014 and has been part of a coalition called “Iowa 4 Cannabis.” She said the current legislation allowed her daughter suffering from Dravet Syndrome to be treated with hemp oil. She has been ordering and shipping the oil from another state.

“The last time they were out of stock, it made me a little nervous,” Gaer said. “We need to have our own production and distribution of medical marijuana in Iowa. We need to help more people with different conditions.”  

Not everybody is on board with the expanded bill, however, including House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake. She has said she is in favor of the FDA setting standards for medical marijuana rather than the state legislature.

“I absolutely do not believe we can replicate [cannabidiol] production facilities in Iowa,” said Peter Komendowski, president and director at the Partnership @ “We are projected to have a legal, FDA-approved source of medicine for seizures and epilepsy in 2017.”

Komendowski said a pharmaceutical company is already in a process to develop a drug derived from cannabidiol for pediatric epilepsy.

FDA-approved clinical trials, currently being performed at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital are necessary to make sure the THC content levels are safe for children, he added.

“Our legislature is trying to be a pharmacist, a doctor and a pharmaceutical company,” Komendowski said. “Having them involved in this business is very frightening. … There must be some ulterior motive for this bill because it certainly doesn’t fall within sound medical criteria. 

“We are going against the medical community, University of Iowa hospital and major medical associations.”

Another concern involves the financial aspect of the bill, which is estimated to cost the state $4 million. This sum does not justify setting up the system for about 50 cannabidiol oil card-holders, Komendowski said. 

He described the legislation as “an experiment that is not only futile but is going to be obsolete in 12 months.     

The bill passed through the Commerce Committee during the “funnel week” — the final week for bills to get past the committee stage. The path forward in the Republican-controlled House remains uncertain, however.

“Two years ago, I did support the cannabis oil bill for people with severe epilepsy,” said state Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames. “I was disappointed that in implementation it did not turn to do any good.” 

Quirmbach said he would be “inclined” to support a bill that addresses shortcomings.

“Any expansion beyond that particular application is something that I would have to have a chance to think about and discuss,” Quirmbach said.