What is the proposed bill?
A new bill that would expand the types of products available in Iowa’s medical cannabis program has advanced through a subcommittee on January 16, 2024. The bill, House Study Bill 532, would change the definition of “medical cannabidiol” to include oral, topical, inhalable, and raw flower forms of cannabis. Currently, the state only allows products that are extracted from cannabis plants, such as tablets, capsules, topicals, and vaporizers.
The bill would make medical cannabis more affordable and accessible for patients, according to supporters. They argue that extraction is a costly and inefficient process that reduces the potency and variety of cannabinoids and terpenes in the final product. By allowing raw flower, patients would have more options to choose from and more control over their dosage and consumption method.
What are the challenges and concerns?
The bill faces opposition from some state agencies and law enforcement officials, who have raised concerns about the potential impact of allowing cannabis flower on public safety and regulation. They claim that cannabis flower is more likely to be diverted to the illegal market or used for recreational purposes, as it is harder to distinguish from non-medical cannabis. They also worry that cannabis flower could increase the risk of impaired driving and make it more difficult for officers to enforce the current laws.
Catherine Lucas, general counsel with the Iowa Department of Public Service, said that allowing cannabis flower would essentially give medical card holders a “get out of jail free” card, as they could not be prosecuted for possessing or using cannabis flower, regardless of the source or amount. She also cited the example of Minnesota, which added cannabis flower to its medical program and saw an increase of 80,000 patients in one year.
What are the next steps?
The bill will now move to the Senate Public Safety Committee, where it will be further discussed and debated. If it passes the committee, it will then go to the full Senate and House for a vote. If it becomes law, it will take effect on July 1, 2024.
The bill is not the first attempt to add cannabis flower to Iowa’s medical program. Earlier this year, a petition to the state’s Medical Cannabidiol Board, which oversees the program and the list of qualifying conditions, was rejected by the board. The board also voted to maintain the current limit of 4.5 grams of THC per 90 days for patients, with exceptions for terminal illnesses or higher doses prescribed by a physician.
How does Iowa compare to other states?
Iowa is one of the few states that still restricts medical cannabis to extracted products only. Most states that have legalized medical cannabis allow patients to access cannabis flower, as well as other forms such as edibles, oils, tinctures, and concentrates. Some states also have higher limits on the amount of THC or cannabis that patients can possess or purchase.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group, Iowa has one of the most limited and restrictive medical cannabis programs in the country. The group ranks Iowa 47th out of 50 states in terms of patient access, product availability, and legal protection. The group also notes that Iowa has a low number of registered patients (about 18,000) and dispensaries (five) compared to other states with similar population sizes.