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Iowans overwhelmingly support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, but they don’t support allowing recreational uses, a new Iowa Poll shows.
Wochit

Iowans suffering from a range of diseases and illnesses gain access to medicinal marijuana under a bill signed into law on Friday by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

The measure, House File 524, expands access to cannabis oil to include patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures, AIDS or HIV, Crohn’s disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, as well as most terminal illnesses that involve a life expectancy of less than one year and untreatable pain.

With Branstad’s signature, the law takes effect immediately, making medical marijuana available to potentially thousands more Iowans than under an existing law limited to those with epilepsy.

The governor currently is awaiting confirmation as ambassador to China, with a Senate vote potentially happening as early as next week. If all goes as expected, the medical marijuana expansion would be the final policy bill Branstad signs into law after 22 years as Iowa’s governor.

Branstad also on Friday signed into law the bills comprising Iowa’s $7.2 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Advocates for medical marijuana cheered the bill’s signing Friday as an advancement but not a total victory.

“This is a great next step in the process of making medical cannabis available for many folks here in Iowa who need access to it as a medical treatment,” said Threase Harms, a lobbyist representing the Epilepsy Foundation and the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Although he signed the bill, Branstad issued a statement indicating he did so with some reservations and calling on lawmakers to amend the measure when they reconvene next year.

“While these issues are not large or numerous enough to warrant a veto of the bill,” he wrote, “they will continue to be concerns for the public and state agencies until they are addressed in the future.”

Branstad is calling on lawmakers to tighten restrictions on who may work for cannabis manufacturers and distributors, and to allow wider background checks on prospective workers, among other changes.

Harms said she is comfortable with those changes, and said lawmakers and advocates alike recognized the need to revisit the law even as it was being passed late in the night on the final day of the legislative session last month.

The new law marks a seismic shift in the state’s position on marijuana, allowing the plant — which remains illegal under federal law — to be grown within the state and processed into cannabis oil that has a tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, content of up to 3 percent. THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis that makes recreational users high.

It creates a framework for marijuana growing, manufacturing and distributing companies to submit proposals to the state, and allows the Department of Public Health to approve up to two manufacturers and up to five distributors for operation.

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Erin Miller’s son was having seizures and all the motor skills he had gained disappeared. Now, after being on cannabis for a year and a half, he’s walking, running, giving high-fives and hugs, and being a little boy
Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register

The AP reported Friday that in-state dispensaries could be established by December 2018, and that the state is working out an arrangement with Minnesota to make cannabis oil available to Iowans in the interim.

A new Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board will be established within the Department of Public Health to oversee the program. The board could recommend adding or removing conditions eligible for treatment with cannabis oil and offer recommendations to the Legislature to raise the 3-percent cap on the THC limits.

The bill passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

It replaces expiring provisions in Iowa law that decriminalized the possession of cannabis oil for epilepsy patients. The effect of that law was limited, as it gave patients no legal means of obtaining the product. State records show just 145 patients have obtained cards allowing them to possess the oil.

Although the new law alleviates concerns about traveling across state lines to get access to cannabis oil — a violation of federal law — some proponents remain skeptical of its effectiveness. The low level of THC allowed by law, they say, will do little to help patients suffering from critical conditions.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Harms said Friday. “Even with epilepsy, not everybody can be treated with a medicine that has 3 percent THC.”

Twenty-nine other states and the District of Columbia allow for comprehensive medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Those programs provide protection from criminal penalties for using marijuana for a medical purpose; allow access to marijuana through home cultivation or dispensaries; allow a variety of strains, including those not categorized as low-THC; and allow the smoking or vaping of some marijuana products, plant materials or extracts.

Branstad signed the medical marijuana bill on Friday along with nine budget bills allocating some $7.2 billion for state operations in the coming year, wrapping up legislative business for the year. The governor said earlier this week he intended to sign all the remaining bills by Friday — ahead of his possible confirmation next week.

In statements announcing the signings, Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds hailed the 2017 legislative session — the first in 20 years in which Republicans controlled both legislative chambers as well as the governor’s office — as “one of the most significant and productive” in Iowa history.

“We have a relatively low volume of item-vetoes, demonstrating the success of working together with the House and Senate to implement policies to make Iowa more competitive and prosperous,” Branstad said. “I’m proud of the work that we’ve done this year.”

Reflecting flagging state revenues, the budget cut several programs and included limited increases for education and other major spending areas.

Democrats, in response, assailed the governor on Friday for approving $150,000 for the gubernatorial transition that will occur after he’s confirmed as ambassador.

“It’s outrageous that $150,000 was approved for the lieutenant governor to move offices while cuts were made to domestic violence grants,” state Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said in a statement. “The GOP failed taxpayers this legislative session and Lt. Gov. (Kim) Reynolds’ insistence on this line item shows she will put the politics of her office before the needs of Iowans.”

The budget will result in higher college tuition, less availability for preschool and higher property taxes, Hall warned.

“Iowans have every right to be frustrated with the broken promises Republicans made to the people of Iowa this session,” he said.

Branstad signed a $1.77 billion health and human services budget that includes language prohibiting state dollars for Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics that provide abortions.

With the bill’s approval, Iowa’s Department of Human Services will discontinue the state’s existing federal Medicaid family planning network waiver, foregoing about $3 million in federal funding but allowing it to block funding for Planned Parenthood.

Instead, the state will use about $3.3 million to establish its own family planning network with funding available only to organizations that do not provide abortions.

According to the Iowa Legislative Services Agency, there were 12,219 people participating in the existing family planning program in December 2016. Republicans have said women will have access to 221 clinics statewide that will expand coverage to rural women who must now make long drives to urban areas for family planning services.

Democrats have disagreed, contending the bill will cause Iowa women to have more difficulty obtaining birth control, cancer screenings and other health care.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland on Friday called the defunding language “shocking and outrageous,” and predicted it would have “devastating short- and long-term health consequences for the thousands of patients.”

“In light of this news, we are turning over every rock, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ’t’ to explore our options to defend our mission and patients,” PPHeartland President and CEO Suzanna de Baca said in a statement. “We will do all we can to keep our health centers open in as many communities as possible, and we will continue to provide high-quality care to as many patients as possible.”

In one major change from the budget enacted by lawmakers, Branstad vetoed language in one of the bills that would have dismantled the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

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