Iowa Senate Frustrated With House Inaction On Medical Marijuana

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Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed frustration Monday with the House’s refusal to consider a bill that would expand Iowa’s medical marijuana program.

Republican and Democratic senators have been calling for an expansion of the list of medical conditions that allow a patient to obtain medical marijuana. The bipartisan group also wants to remove the state’s cap on the amount of THC, the most psychoactive component of marijuana, that’s allowed in medical preparations.

Republican Sen. Tom Greene of Burlington said it’s time to move past the “baby steps” taken in previous years.

“I urge you all to contact the representatives who serve our same districts in the House and urge them to press to their caucus leaders that this is an issue we cannot keep putting off year, after year, after year,” Greene said.

Greene made his comments when he introduced an amendment to expand the program during debate on a bill aimed at reducing opioid addiction and overdoses. The amendment mirrored a medical marijuana expansion bill passed by a Senate committee last week.

“I’ve been told this amendment will not move anywhere. It will kill the [opioid] bill,” said Greene before he withdrew the medical marijuana amendment.

Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City thanked Sen. Greene for speaking about the issue.

“We still don’t have any support from the Speaker, unfortunately, or the House Republicans to do something meaningful on this,” Bolkcom said.

Bolkcom has previously criticized Senate Republicans for what he said is their failure to stand up to the House on this issue.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said the medical marijuana bill passed in 2017 created an advisory board to ensure medical experts, rather than legislators, are recommending changes.

“We need to let the system get started and hear from the experts before we make any changes,” said Upmeyer in an emailed statement. “If the advisory board makes recommendations, the Legislature can take those up next session.”

MedPharm Iowa, the only licensed medical marijuana manufacturer in the state, has also been pushing for an expansion of the program. Company officials have said current restrictions will keep the program so small that it won’t be sustainable.