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Iowa must ‘weed out’ a compromise

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015 11:03 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015 11:06 a.m. CDT

When the Iowa Legislature convenes for its 90th session on Jan. 11 of next year, it will be expected to quickly resolve some of its squabbles that were dragged out last year — some with no completion.

School funding, eminent domain, inpatient mental health care and Medicaid could be huge issues for the legislature, and all of these are tough topics that deserve plenty of attention and some solutions. However, another major unfinished subject the legislature — medical cannabis — should be addressed early in the session — especially by the House of Representatives.

The senate passed SF 484 last year by a 26-19 margin in early May, with Sen. Chaz Allen (D-Newton) voting in favor of it and Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) voting against it. It never made it out of committee on the House side.

This year, rather than see a medical cannabis bill pushed through one of the two houses at the last minute (the legislature was on extra time in May, largely due to the school funding impasse), when the Senate voted on SF 484), this issue should be resolved in either January or February. I realize there are many budget and other administrative and federal drug regulations to contend with, but legislators owe it to chronically ill Iowans to come up with a solution for medical cannabis.

Several prominent government officials have referred to medical proposals as pathways toward legalizing for recreational use. If anyone is concerned Des Moines would become filled with as many dispensaries as, say, the way Denver changed when Colorado legalized recreational use, there might be little reason for concern.

First, Iowa can clearly choose a medical-only route. Several states, including California and New Mexico, have instituted longstanding successful, model medical programs that have had little, if any, measurable impact on the recreational use.

Second, if the legislature or a landmark court case somehow led to recreational approval in Iowa, the rush and excitement might be over. Now that Colorado and Washington have captured the first wave of enthusiasts, is the same jubilation going to happen in all 50 states — especially if 15 or 20 try to capitalize on the tax windfall all at once?

Iowa lost considerable medical credibility when Gov. Terry Branstad closed two of the state’s four mental hospitals earlier this year. It wasn’t so much the number of patients displaced as it was a symbol of health care not being a top priority.

The law passed in 2014, that allows select epilepsy patients to possess cannabis, but with no legal way to bring it across state lines, does not provide a regular program for patients. Chronically ill Iowans deserve the same respect that pediatric AIDS patients or car-accident victims would expect to receive; it can all be done using mostly existing medical resources.

The caucus season seems to have put some Iowa priorities on the back burner. While presidential candidates have revived Iowa consciousness about the unpopular 10-cent gas tax or school issues such as funding or Common Core, there hasn’t been much discussion of medical cannabis.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was confronted on the subject during his recent town-hall meeting at the Raceway Cafe. He not only dismissed it as a set-up to get a negative reaction, he reiterated his position that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs, and should only be allowed medically in rare cases.

The legislature and the governor will have many demanding priorities this year. Let’s make sure getting medicine to people who need it is one of those priorities.

Contact Jason W. Brooks at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or jbrooks@newtondailynews.com

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