Iowa could lead the nation in cannabis legislation

Carl Olsen is a longtime advocate for expanding access to medical cannabis in Iowa. He maintains the Iowans for Medical Marijuana website and argued for the amendment discussed here. -promoted by Laura Belin

Have you heard legislators saying they are authorizing federal criminal activity here in Iowa? It’s true.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said both before and after she voted for Iowa’s Medical Cannabidiol Act in 2017 that Iowa is authorizing federal criminal activity. If you think this is just House speaker madness, think again. Shortly after Upmeyer made those statements, Democratic State Representative John Forbes, an Urbandale pharmacist, said the same thing on Iowa Public Television.

How legislators can vote for something and then claim everyone involved is participating in federal criminal activity is beyond explanation. Patients who think they now have a right to use medical cannabis are being needlessly stigmatized and deceived into becoming federal criminals.

And the businesses the legislature set up to manufacture and distribute the medical cannabis are told they are operating continuing criminal enterprises, with all the draconian federal penalties that go along with that. What are we doing?

But hope is alive! On March 5, 2019, the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee took a step toward ending this madness. In a 14 to 1 vote, senators amended Senate File 256 with a statement of harmony with existing federal law.

After voting against the amendment, Democratic Senator Robert Hogg then voted in favor of the bill. When a Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter asked Hogg about his opposition to the amendment, he said something about the Civil War.

Having passed out of committee, the amended bill now has a new number: Senate File 501. You can find the statement on harmony with existing federal law on page 5 at lines 19-23.

I know what you’re thinking. How can a state authorize the use of a federal schedule 1 controlled substance, cannabis? Here is the answer.

Since 1970, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has authorized an exemption for the religious use of a federal schedule 1 controlled substance, peyote. This proves the DEA can acknowledge an exemption for a state authorized medical cannabis program. Churches do not enjoy greater rights than states do.

Competing versions

While SF 501 was being amended to comply with federal law, the Iowa House leadership decided to rush a medical cannabis bill through at the last minute. House Study Bill 244 was introduced on March 6, and a subcommittee hearing was held that same day. The subcommittee approved the bill and the House Public Safety Committee approved it the next morning. At the hearing on March 7, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, State Representative Jarad Klein, didn’t clarify whether the House would work with the Senate on this legislation.

We don’t know yet if there will be a compromise bill containing federal compliance language. It is irresponsible to pass state legislation that addresses substances included in the federal drug law without explaining how the two laws (state and federal) can co-exist peacefully. Please help us lobby for this important addition to Iowa’s medical cannabidiol program.

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