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Medical marijuana bill fails in the Iowa House

House lawmakers vote down bill that would have expanded Iowa's medical marijuana law on Monday night. (MGN Online)

A proposal that would have expanded Iowa's medical marijuana law failed Monday night in the Republican-controlled House amid criticism that it didn't create a clear way for patients to access the drug.

The chamber voted 31-63 to turn down a proposal that would have expanded the list of medical conditions that make people eligible for possession of cannabis oil. The measure also faced an uncertain future in the Democratic-majority Senate, where there was support for a more comprehensive system.

Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Altoona, said he was disappointed with House Democrats, though the measure didn't have full support within his own party. He said the bill would have "helped a lot more Iowans than we currently are doing now."

A 2014 law legalized cannabis oil for certain patients but left them nowhere to buy it. The House proposal would have expanded the list of medical conditions eligible to apply for a card that allows possession of the oil, which has little of the hallucinogenic chemical that makes a person high. The bill would also have created a task force to evaluate aspects of the bill. It would not have created an in-state manufacturing system.

Several House Democrats challenged the proposal. Rep. Bob Kressing, D-Cedar Falls, said the plan would continue to force Iowa residents to travel outside of the state to access the oil and such a process would violate federal law that prohibits transporting Schedule I drugs across state lines.

"This bill, at the end of day, is going to do absolutely nothing," he said.

Nunn said there were opportunities for Iowa to partner with other states to access the oil. The bill doesn't reference a specific state, but there was continued discussion about Minnesota. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Laker, confirmed her office has communicated with lawmakers in Minnesota to explore a system to allow Iowa residents to buy medical marijuana oil from their northern neighbor.

Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said a hypothetical partnership with Minnesota was a "pipe dream."

Some House Republicans defended the plan. Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, said if the bill didn't advance, "I think we will continue to wait, and I don't think we deserve to wait any longer."

Last session, the Legislature failed to advance a bill that would create an in-state manufacturing system. The issue gained momentum this year after some House Republicans supported a similar bill, but it stalled in a House committee.

The Legislature is in the midst of trying to pass the state budget and adjourn for the session, a sign the issue could be dead for now. But House Democrats said they'll continue to push for legislation before lawmakers head home for the year.

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