Iowa lawmakers look at expanding medical cannabis program

    Inside MedPharm Iowa's manufacturing plant in Des Moines. (Photo: Caroline Cummings).

    Iowa lawmakers are looking at expanding a 2017 law allowing medical cannabis to be manufactured and sold in the state to sick patients who need it, advancing two proposals this week that would make changes.

    Current law allows Iowans with certain conditions to purchase medical cannabis products available at five dispensaries across the state, which opened in December.

    An Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions to get medical cannabis products. It would also allow medical cannabis for any condition as long as a health care provider says it would be “medically beneficial.”

    1,725 patients and caregivers have medical cannabis cards in Iowa as of March 1, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. 581 physicians have certified Iowans conditions making them eligible for the program. This proposal would expand the health care providers that can certify to include nurse practitioners and physicians assistants.

    The proposal would also exempt medical cannabis products from sales tax.

    “The bottom line here is to make this more available to more Iowans who are hurting," said Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who introduced the bill. "I think it’s a big step forward and I feel hopeful and pretty positive that the House will make moves towards expansion as well.”

    The Iowa House is weighing the issue, too, introducing a separate bill that would tinker with the language to replace "untreatable pain" with "severe and chronic pain" on the list of debilitating conditions for which medical cannabis can be recommended by a health care provider.

    The proposal, like its counterpart in the Senate, would also allow nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to certify Iowans to purchase medical cannabis products.

    Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, who introduced the House bill, said he is willing to talk with the other chamber to broker a deal and get something done this year.

    "This is the art of what's possible, not always getting a perfect bill," said Klein. "We're never going to get a perfect bill in my mind but we will have that discussion because you need two chambers to be on the same page."

    It would also removed the THC cap of three percent and shift to a milligram system, capping the amount at 20 grams. Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, who works as a pharmacist, said at the subcommittee hearing Wednesday that most medications today aren't dosed in percentages anymore, so this change makes sense.

    "Milligrams are pretty much the standard practice across the medical industry," Forbes said.

    Representatives for MedPharm Iowa and Iowa Relief, the two licensed manufacturers in the state, said they appreciate lawmakers looking at removing the percentage cap on THC---an element of the 2017 law that medical cannabis advocates have long fought to change.

    Both the Senate House bills would also allow felons with qualifying conditions get medical cannabis products, which is barred under current law.

    The House bill will get a full committee vote Thursday.

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