Kim Reynolds says she’s comfortable with medical marijuana recommendations from state board
Governor Kim Reynolds plans to continue to work with the legislature to find a compromise on medical marijuana. Des Moines Register
Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday she’s comfortable with a state board’s recommendation to change the permissible potency of legally available medical marijuana products despite calls by some lawmakers to allow higher amounts of THC.
Lawmakers in the Iowa Legislature have been searching for a bill that would meet Reynolds’ approval after she vetoed a proposal last year that would have expanded the state’s medical marijuana program. They have been looking for guidance from Reynolds about how much THC should be allowed to be given to patients under the program. THC is the chemical that makes recreational marijuana users high.
Speaking on the Iowa Press television program on Friday, Reynolds said she is comfortable with a recommendation from the Medical Cannabidiol Board that patients should be limited to 4.5 grams of THC in a 90-day period. The board, made up of physicians and law enforcement personnel, makes recommendations about the program’s scope.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds talks to members of the press following a STEM event at the Iowa State Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Des Moines. (Photo: Brian Powers/The Register)
“Well, I’m comfortable with where the board ended up. So they just met and I think that might be similar to what the House bill just passed through committee,” Reynolds said.
Right now, the state’s program allows medical marijuana products to contain 3% THC. The board’s proposal would limit the number of grams of THC, rather than impose a percentage limit.
The Iowa House and Senate are considering competing bills, and the main difference between the two is the amount of THC allowed. The House version follows the board’s recommendation of 4.5 grams over 90 days while the Senate version allows up to 25 grams, which was the amount in the bill that Reynolds vetoed last year.
Reynolds said the state board’s recommendation to impose no limit on THC for terminally ill patients and to allow patients to buy products with higher THC amounts if they have a doctor’s recommendation shows the board is listening to the needs of Iowans.
“I’m comfortable with that and I think we continue to make progress and we can continue to evaluate it moving forward,” Reynolds said. “So it doesn’t mean that in the future this is where it has to end. But I think that’s pretty significant progress.”
Iowa lawmakers have been seeking guidance from Gov. Kim Reynolds after she vetoed a bill last year that would have expanded the state's medical marijuana program.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signs bill to change THC cap for Iowa’s medical marijuana program
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Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into law a bill that changes the cap on THC in Iowa’s medical marijuana program and allows patients with more conditions to access the program.
But the state’s largest medical marijuana provider has warned the lower THC limit will not allow some patients currently in the program to effectively treat their conditions.
Last year, Reynolds vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have allowed patients to be prescribed much higher amounts of THC. The law she signed Monday follows the recommendations of the state Medical Cannabidiol Board, which is made up of physicians and law enforcement personnel and makes recommendations about the program’s scope.
Reynolds’ office announced the signing along with a list of 14 other bills Monday afternoon in a news release. Reynolds did not comment on the signing in the release.
The law changes Iowa’s cap on the amount of THC that a dispensary can give to a person, replacing Iowa’s 3% limit with a cap of 4.5 grams per patient every 90 days. The law carries an exception for those whose health care provider certifies that 4.5 grams every 90 days is not enough to treat their condition, or if the health care provider certifies that the patient’s medical condition is terminal, with a less than one-year life expectancy.
Iowa’s program allows capsules, extracts, concentrates, lotions, ointments and tinctures. Smoking medical or recreational marijuana remains prohibited in Iowa.
The law makes additional changes to the program, including adding post-traumatic stress disorder and “severe, intractable autism with self-injurious or aggressive behaviors” to the list of medical conditions that are treatable through the program. It also replaces “untreatable” pain with “chronic” pain on that list.
MedPharm general manager Lucas Nelson told the Register in early June that he has mixed feelings on the law. The expanded conditions are a welcome addition that could open Iowa’s program to thousands of more people, but he said the change in THC guidelines will mean some Iowans will have to cut down on the amount of product they are using.
“Setting the THC cap at 4.5 grams is extremely problematic,” he said. “There will be many, many patients who are going to be forced to reduce their doses because of that.”
MedPharm Iowa is currently Iowa’s sole medical marijuana manufacturer and runs two of the state’s remaining three dispensaries. Acreage Holdings Inc., the state’s second manufacturer, idled its facility in April and officially pulled out of the state’s program on June 1. A company spokesman in an email declined to comment on the reason for leaving.
Nelson said it’s too early to know whether business in Iowa will drop off as a result of the law. He said the expansion of conditions should improve the program’s long-term outlook, but patients leaving the program could doom it. He said he believes the constraints of the state’s program are what caused Acreage Holdings Inc. to pull out.
“MedPharm 100% committed to this state,” he said. “The opportunity to serve PTSD patients and some of these others that we’ll be able to get in the program is certainly going to keep us fighting to continue to improve it. But, we’ve said all along that long-term sustainability is in question at this point, and this bill pushes in the right direction, but we’re certainly not there yet.”
Iowa Cannabis Co., the company that owns the state’s other dispensary in Waterloo, did not respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said during debate on the Senate floor that the legislation takes Iowa’s medical marijuana program, which he said was already “the worst program in the country” and makes it “even worse.”
“You reduce the effectiveness of the medicine. You take the active ingredient that helps people in pain and you lower the dosage of THC that patients can get,” Bolkcom said.
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who advocated for the 25-gram THC limit included in the bill Reynolds vetoed last year, said the law is “not perfect.” But he said it would be an improvement over the current system since it allows patients to talk to their doctors if they need a higher level of THC.
“This bill here is a step forward,” he said.
The law also adds physician assistants, podiatrists, advanced registered nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurses to the list of health care practitioners allowed to certify patients to receive registration cards to participate in the program.
It also adds marijuana or controlled substance use in the workplace as a disqualification for unemployment benefits.
Bolkcom criticized that provision of the law, saying the workers who will be laid off will be working-class people, including people of color.
“This is an example where you penalize people that are marginalized right now with a law like this that says, ‘Hey, you have marijuana in your system, you weren’t impaired at work but you can’t have unemployment insurance,'” he said.
As of April 14, Iowa had 4,770 active patients and 766 caregivers participating in the program.
The number of participants grew at a much slower rate as the coronavirus spread around the state in April, the most recent month with data publicly available on the Iowa Department of Health website. In April, 102 new patients and 10 caregivers received approval to join the program, down from 364 new patients and 63 new caregivers the month before.
As a result of the new law, Iowa has delayed the process for selecting who will receive the two available licenses for new dispensaries. The state is looking to fill the void left after Have a Heart Compassionate Care closed its two Iowa medical marijuana dispensaries in Council Bluffs and Davenport.
The state had originally scheduled the request for proposals to end June 8, but the state halted the process earlier in the month, setting the process back by seven weeks.
Owen Parker, who manages the state’s medical marijuana program, said the state had to delay the process for multiple reasons. He said the new legislation is changing the parameters of the program, several closures due to the coronavirus have made it difficult for applicants to complete necessary local zoning steps in time and the new opening for a manufacturer could now interest more applicants.
Parker said the state planned to issue a new request for proposals this week. Instead of awarding the state’s licenses on July 20, that is now scheduled for Sept. 7, he said. The state will be seeking a new manufacturer in the near future, as well.
The law she signed Monday follows the recommendations of the state Medical Cannabidiol Board, which makes recommendations about the program's scope.