50 States

50 States: Iowa

By Jon Young

50 States: Iowa

Medical: CBD oil only
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: No

February 25, 2019: A new poll by the Des Moines Register and Mediacom suggests a spike in cannabis support. Nearly 80 percent of respondents want the state to expand its weak medical cannabis program, and 48 percent want to legalize recreational cannabis. For Iowans under the age of 35, support for legalization hit a whopping 70 percent. By comparison, support for recreational cannabis among all respondents was 39 percent in early 2018, marking a nine-point gain over the past year. Support for prohibition, meanwhile, dropped from 58 percent to 48 percent over the same time period. The new poll marks the first time that Iowans are evenly split over the issue of recreational legalization. Highlighting the changing tide in the vital presidential caucus state, a Republican lawmaker also introduced a bill to legalize medical MDMA and mushrooms. 

January 18, 2019: Talk about a 420 gone bad. Per The Des Moines Register, police officers visited the home of Jamaica Mayor Ladonna Kennedy at 4:20 p.m. on Wednesday and smelled cannabis from outside the house. Inside, the officers reportedly discovered an 18-plant grow and several baggies and subsequently arrested the mayor and her husband Randy. Located about 50 miles from Des Moines, Jamaica is a small town with only a few hundred residents, but it's the former home of Sound Farm Studio where artists like Slipknot, Stone Sour, Murderdolls and the Envy Corps recorded music. The studio, which can be seen in the Slipknot video "Psychosocial," closed in 2013. 

What's Past Is Prologue

In 2014, Iowa joined a handful of other states that legalized cannabidiol (CBD) oil to treat some forms of epilepsy in children, yet the legislature made no path to actually obtaining the medicine.

"Not one thing has been done yet so that any of our kids can try this," said Tina McDermott, mother of 7-year-old epileptic Ryan McDermott, according to the Quad-City Times. "So, really, it’s pretty worthless, if you ask me. It’s a baby step into it. For people like Ryan who need it now, they cannot wait."

Steve Gaer, Mayor of West Des Moine, has to fly to Oregon—the only state where out-of-state medical marijuana (MMJ) patients can obtain CBD oil—to get the medicine his 25-year-old daughter Margaret needs to treat her rare form of epilepsy. He said CBD oil has cut the number of his daughter’s seizures in half, and allows her, for the first time in her life, to speak in full sentences and sleep through the night.

“We have the resources to go to Oregon four times a year, but how are we going to get it home?” Gaer asked. “No airline is going to let me bring 32 ounces of cannabis oil on an airplane to get it home.”

After a failed attempt last year to make the bill more usable, new legislation is once again on the table that may allow production and distribution of CBD oil in-state, clearing a legal path for MMJ patients to obtain medicine without breaking state and federal drug trafficking laws.

"We want to make sure the law that passed works for people," Gaer said. "Right now, it doesn’t work because they can’t get it."

The new legislation is sponsored by West Des Moine Republican Peter Cownie, who chairs the House Commerce Committee. After a long struggle to pass the 2014 bill that legalized CBD oil and a failed attempt in 2015, Cownie admits 2016 may not be any more successful.  

“I would ask everyone to keep an open mind on the bill,” Cownie said, per Iowa Public Radio. “There are predispositions having to do with the word marijuana of course.”

Under Cownie’s new bill, CBD oil production would be allowed in-state under strict but “accessible” parameters, addressing the lack of any legal route to CBD oil in the previous bill.

“That’s the problem we had with the original bill,” Cownie said, “and that is what this bill solves.”

Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis, a group formed to promote safe and regulated access to medical cannabis, found in a Quester Research-conducted poll that more than three out of four Iowans support expanding the medical cannabis program.

“Iowans are ready for a medical cannabis law this year,” said Brian Pins with Quester Research, which found that 76 percent of Iowans support expanding the current law.

At a recent news conference, Sally Gaer, wife of Steve Gaer and a leading activist for the medical cannabis law, mourned the passing of fellow activist and cancer patient Lori Tassin at 44 before she had a chance to see the laws change.

“Cannabis must become accessible to Iowans in 2016,” Gaer said while fighting back tears. “Our hearts are broken.”

While the debate is on for the expansion of medical cannabis in Iowa, a bill that would reduce penalties for use and possession is also on the table that would drastically reduce Iowa’s harsh penalties. Currently, possession of a single gram of cannabis can get one locked up for six months, a $1000 fine or both. If passed, the maximum penalty for possession of up to five grams would be 30 days in jail.

Like many other states, 2016 could be a big year for cannabis reform in Iowa. Hopefully it will be.

Photo credit: Unsplash.

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