Medical marijuana bill may go up in smoke


A bill legalizing medical marijuana in Iowa has seen some progress this year, but lawmakers are concerned implementation could be years away.

A lack of Republican support in the Iowa Senate and an all-but-certain refusal to discuss the issue in the Iowa House will likely hinder any advancement of the medical marijuana bill that passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee last week.

The bill, which all Republicans in the committee opposed, would allow patients suffering from a range of diseases, including cancer and AIDS, to receive medical cannabis. It would also license four facilities to manufacture and allow independent dispensaries to sell the drug.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City addressed the issue at a legislative forum on March 28.

“We’ve got some challenges,” he said. “In most states, this takes three or four, five years to pass. This is year two. We just have to continue educating and encourage people to be involved in this discussion.”

The bill could pass the Senate without Republican support, but that would not entice House Republicans to support the effort. Leading Republicans in the House have repeatedly stated they have no interest in discussing the topic.

But Bolkcom remained optimistic and encouraged efforts continue working on a bipartisan level.

“I think that our leader is going to want to know if we’ve got any Republican votes, if he’s going to bring this to the floor,” he said. “And the advocates and patients who are working in this next week or two to try to line up as much Republican support as we can.”

Sen. Michael Breitbach, R-Strawberry Point, a member of the Ways and Means Committee who served on the Cannabidiol Implementation Study Committee, said Bolkcom’s bill was more far-reaching than necessary, but Bolkcom was very open to discussion and compromise.

Bolkcom said the bill is based on Minnesota’s medical-marijuana law. But Breitbach pointed out differences in diseases, the inclusion of post-traumatic stress disorder, and regulations between growers and retailers of the product.

“We’re working on it; I just don’t know that it’s to the point that it will get a lot of rep support,” Breitbach said. “It’s just not ready.”

He said he wasn’t sure House Speaker Kraig Paulsen would even bring the bill to a hearing in the House.

The leadership’s refusal to discuss the topic seemed to strike a chord with Democrats at the March 28 forum. Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, condemned the approach to medical marijuana taken by House Republicans.

“We’ve got leadership in the House that won’t even allow it to be brought up,” Mascher said. “They are just adamantly opposed, not because, obviously it’s going to help people; they just think they’ve got to be tough on drugs.”

She thanked the Senate Democrats for discussing and advancing the issue, but she had no optimism regarding the possibility of any discussion in the House. She referred to the attitudes of House Republicans as unfortunate and ridiculous.

“Welcome to our hell; that’s what we deal with,” Mascher said.