By Katrina Custardo
Calls to decriminalize cannabis have increased across the country, and this time, Iowa is part of the new movement. It started in the Iowa Senate with Senate File 506. This bill, which was passed on a 45-5 vote, allows some patients with medical conditions, such as cancer or PTSD, to obtain a card that would allow them to use medical cannabis. Of course, each patient would need written approval from a doctor before being issued a card. Along with creating a card system, the bill also legalizes the production and distribution of medical marijuana and reclassifies it under state law.
This comes after years of anti-cannabis sentiment in the Iowa Senate. Just two years ago, a similar bill barely passed with the help of one Republican vote to make the majority. This time around, the five senators to vote against the bill were four Republicans joined by one Democrat, Tod Bowman. Bowman was also the one Democrat to oppose the 2015 bill.
The new bill expands on the 2015 bill. Before the measure, medical marijuana in Iowa was technically legal; however, it was still illegal to grow and distribute it even to patients. This bill specifically changes the classification of growing and distributing marijuana. By creating government distribution centers for patients, it is more likely to gain support over those who would be against any marijuana distribution. It would still be illegal for a regular citizen to grow and distribute marijuana, even if the buyer was a patient. It’s also worth noting that growing and distributing marijuana for smoking would still be illegal, as well as actually smoking it.
It’s surprising, to say the least, that the Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill somewhat decriminalizing cannabis. The Republicans control the Senate by nine votes, and with the current administration being pretty vocal about why cannabis is bad, and that Iowa voted Republican in November 2016, this bill is a breath of fresh air. It proves that politicians, Republicans especially, are slowly coming to see the good things medical marijuana can do.
However, there is a big chance that this bill will be defeated in the House. Like the Senate, the Iowa House of Representatives is dominated by Republicans. In the House, the Republicans control the majority by 18 votes, easily able to defeat the measure if they so choose. However, there is no reason for them to do so. The bill specifically calls on marijuana to be used only for medical purposes. It also wouldn’t be outsourced to some grower but instead would be grown by the government in distribution centers. The type of diseases that can be treated by medical marijuana is also strictly limited, and patients have to get doctors‘ signatures before they are allowed a card that allows them to receive the government-distributed marijuana. The bill should cover everything a representative would be worried about. But again, with the backwards mindset of the administration, as well as with some Republicans regarding marijuana as a “gateway drug,” the bill does have a chance at being defeated.
This bill provides so many more benefits than it does problems. It helps cancer patients and people suffering from PSTD, among others, and can make their lives better and easier. It also lays out specific laws regarding how it would be distributed and what patients have to do in order to be eligible. This bill is one step closer to decriminalizing cannabis, and with its massive support in the Senate, I hope the House is encouraged to support and pass the progressive measure.