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Bill would expand Iowa’s medical cannabis program to include flower products

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Iowa medical cannabis manufacturers told Iowa lawmakers Tuesday that allowing the sale of raw cannabis flowers in the state’s medical cannabidiol program would reduce costs for patients.

But representatives of state agencies who spoke at a House subcommittee meeting said the change could cause problems for law enforcement and safety on state roads

Iowa lawmakers advanced House Study Bill 532 through a three-member subcommittee Tuesday. The bill would change Iowa’s definition of “medical cannabidiol” to include forms of oral, topical and inhalable cannabis — including raw cannabis flower.

Dane Schumann, a lobbyist with MedPharm Iowa, one of the firms licensed to manufacture medical marijuana in the state, said the current Iowa Code requires medical cannabis products to be extracts. That means manufacturers grow marijuana plants, extract the active compounds known as CBD and THC from those crops and create a new product to sell for use through the medical cannabis program.

This process is costly, and Schumann said MedPharm was advocating for a change in language to allow for other versions of cannabis because it would result in significantly lower costs for patients.

“We are the only state really left in the country that is requiring extracts in their products,” Schumann said. “The reason other states have moved away from requiring that is because of what I just described, it’s very expensive to make patients have to buy that.”

He said the recommendation was based on medical cannabis programs in states like Utah with similar populations that allow the selling and use of vaporized flower products.

But Catherine Lucas, general counsel with the Iowa Department of Public Service, said while the department does not take a formal position on supporting or opposing the legislation, lawmakers should expect an increase in people signing up for medical marijuana programs once vaporized flower products become available. Minnesota’s medical cannabis program grew from 20,000 to 100,000 patients after flower products were added, she said.

An October report from the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services found Iowa’s program currently has just over 18,000 patient cardholders.

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, said while he understands concerns about the potential growth of the program, he looks forward to future discussions on the availability of cannabis products for card-carrying patients.

“You say, ‘Well, that’s a bad thing,’ or you can say, ‘Oh, that’s a big portion of people that wanted help, and now they’re able to get it,’ you know?” Shipley said. “And if that’s the health care that they seek, and if they’re instructed by a physician, you know, who would I be to prevent them from getting that?”

Another concern Lucas brought up was that allowing vaporized products through the medical program could lead to more accidents and deaths on Iowa roads due to impaired driving. She also said the provision would create more issues for law enforcement in upholding Iowa’s laws against recreational marijuana. If a law enforcement officer finds a person with cannabis flower who is a registered participant in the state’s Medical Cannabidiol Program, law enforcement officers would have no way of determining if that product was obtained through legal means or by a “dealer on the street,” she said.

“If they have a medical card, it’s essentially (a) ‘get out of jail free’ card,” she said.

Expanding the definition would both increase drug trafficking in the state, she said, as well as deter law enforcement from pursuing cannabis-related cases.

The bill was approved by the subcommittee and will next be discussed by the Senate Public Safety Committee. Rep. Hans Wilz, R-Ottumwa, told speakers that there will likely be amendments to the legislation brought up in future meetings.



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