Senate adopts medical cannabis bill

Cannabis OilBy Bob Eschliman


The Iowa Senate narrowly adopted Wednesday a bill to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance, and to allow for the use of cannabis for medical purposes in Iowa.

Senate File 484 was adopted on a 26-19 vote– an act to allow for the use of medical cannabis in Iowa.

During his opening comments, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), said SF 484 creates “a safe, legal, affordable, affective, and highly regulated way for Iowans and their families to access medicines made from cannabis.”

“Sick and suffering Iowans are asking for our help. They are asking because Washington, DC, is broken. The simple truth is that Iowa’s elected leaders are the only people who can help them and their families. For many Iowans, their lives are really in our hands.”

He then shared the stories of two Iowans he said were “in desperate need” of the benefits associated with medical cannabis.

The first was Kim Novy of Altoona, the mother of twin daughters who each have intractable epilepsy. The second was Katie Krug of Grimes, a mother of two, who herself has ulcerative colitis.

Bolkcom then discussed how the bill would build on the experiences of other states that have already legalized the medical use of cannabis. He said Iowa would not “reinvent the wheel” with SF 484.

He said, compared to the current prescription drug system, the proposed medical cannabis process would be “much more stringent.”

“For example, to get one of today’s prescription drugs, you simply get a prescription from your doctor, go to pharmacy and purchase it,” he said. “In contrast, under the Iowa medical cannabis system proposed in this legislation, the medicine is more tightly controlled.  To begin with, a medical practitioner must certify each year that you have one of the debilitating conditions named in the bill. That decision is then reviewed each year by the medical director of the Iowa medical cannabis program, who is an employee working for the Iowa Department of Public Health.  Everything must check out before you are issued a medical cannabis card.”

Under SF 484, the Iowa Department of Public Health will take recommendations from a medical advisory board of doctors and patients. The board will make suggestions on the form and quantity of the medicine available to Iowans, and will review petitions from patients for the addition or deletion of diseases for which cannabis-based medicines may be prescribed.

Also, IDPH would license four facilities to grow the medical cannabis, and 12 dispensaries would be strategically located across the state where the medical cannabis can be purchased. The bill also includes a “nine-point system of safeguards,” based on the best practices from across the country, to “ensure safe, legal medicine gets to the patients that need it, and not people that don’t.”

Those safeguards include:

  • A patient must be certified annually by a doctor as having a qualified disease or condition.
  • Once certified, a patient can apply for approval from the IDPH for a medical cannabis card. This approval is reviewed every year, in part to eliminate “doctor shopping.”
  • The Iowa Department of Transportation issues the medical cannabis card, allowing law enforcement 24/7 access to the database ensure compliance with the law.
  • Dispensaries must require patients or their caregivers to show the medical cannabis card and ID when obtaining medicine.
  • Detailed adult labeling and packaging is required for the medicine.
  • All medicines made from cannabis in Iowa must be tested for quality and contamination by the IDPH.
  • The Iowa Department of Health will establish a real time tracking database between the dispensaries to monitor and regulate the sales of medicine.
  • Licensees must follow strict security and tracking procedures at the production and dispensing facilities, and the IDPH can inspect these facilities at any time.
  • The smoking of medical cannabis is prohibited.

“Cannabis has been more widely tested over a longer period of time than many other medicines,” Bolkcom said. “There have been dozens of science based clinical trials on the effectiveness of cannabis to treat specific diseases and chronic conditions.”

He also referenced a 2010 study by the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, commissioned by the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, which concluded “medical cannabis is effective in treating disease and chronic conditions.” At that time the Pharmacy Board voted unanimously to recommend rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II.

A Republican amendment to strike all provisions of the bill after its enacting clause and only reschedule cannabis a Schedule II controlled substance failed on a 24-20 vote. A Democrat amendment that merely added the rescheduling of cannabis was adopted unanimously.

A second Democrat amendment to make a number of changes suggested by other members of the Senate was adopted on a voice vote. Following the amendments, state Sens. Steve Sodders (D-State Center), Rich Taylor (D-Mount Pleasant), Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo), and Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) spoke in favor of the legislation, while state Sens. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) and Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines) spoke against it.

The bill was messaged to the Republican-controlled House where it is unlikely to be taken up. The bill was not protected by the House, meaning special procedural measures would have to be taken to force a vote.

State Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) was absent and excused from the debate and vote on final passage. He returned to the chamber immediately after voting was completed on SF 484.

State Sens. Bill Anderson (R-Pierson), Jerry Behn (R-Boone), Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City), Randy Feenstra (R-Hull), and Dan Zumbach (R-Ryan) were absent and excused for the entire morning session.

The Senate also adopted the following bills on unanimous votes:

  • House File 548 – a successor bill to Senate File 406 – an act to require the installation of disconnection devices for electric interconnection facilities installed on or after July 1, 2015.
  • House File 579 – an act to amend Iowa Code as it relates to regulation of health care facilities and elder care programs by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
  • House File 507 – an act to allow sewer service providers to use the same remedies as water utilities to collect on delinquent accounts.
  • House File 525 – an act to allow veterinarians to practice in professional limited liability companies.
  • House File 585 – an act to establish an address confidentiality program for victims of domestic and sexual, stalking, and human trafficking administered by the Office of Secretary of State.


CLICK HERE to see video of the morning floor debate.