Before medicinal marijuana sales even begin, many want more
Before Iowa's new medicinal marijuana law even begins to see product sales, many people are saying it isn't going far enough.
"Give an inch and they will want a mile," reflects State Representative Gary Worthan of Storm Lake.
The input he is receiving isn't necessarily from people who need the medication, but from those who insist the state should allow sale of cannabis with more potent levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
"As quick as we did it [legalized medicinal marijuana] last session, we knew we would be deluged by people wanting more," Worthan told the Pilot-Tribune this week.
He expects the statehouse to be stormed by proponents for legalization of more potent marijuana products on a daily basis during the coming session, but doubts if any such action will be taken in 2019.
"This is just what a whole lot of people expected would happen," he says of the reaction to the 2018 decision.
Implementation of cannabis product distribution also isn't going fast enough to satisfy some people, Worthan says.
It is now expected to be December before dispensary stores in Sioux City, Waterloo, Council Bluffs, Davenport and Windsor Heights are open to the public under licenses approved by the state in March. Two of those companies are based in Washington State, where medical use of marijuana has been in place since 1998. Store proposals in six other cities have been denied.
Marijuana-derived medication will be available to those suffering from conditions including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's Disease and intractable pain, by prescription. The closest store to Storm Lake, MedPharm in Sioux City, is expected to open in a strip mall on Sunnybrook Drive.
Current law will not allow any smokeable marijuana to be sold, but oil, cream or gel capsules will be allowed, with a strict requirement for low THC level. The stores will look and function like pharmacies, but will be required to have a security guard. Only the MedPharm company has been granted a permit to grow the marijuana and process the medications, with a $10 million facility being set up in a former warehouse in Des Moines. The company is currently holding some meetings around the state hoping to convince patients, doctors and communities of the benefits of medical cannabidiol.
"The distribution system is still getting set up. When the session starts, we won't yet have any results on how it is working," Worthan said, predicting that the legislature will not revisit the issue during the coming session.
All that could change if Democrats are able to seize control on the state government, the Storm Lake Republican feels.
Not only could THC potency be jacked up to 3 percent as many are calling for if the majority changes hands, but the state could become embroiled in a debate over legalizing recreational use of marijuana, Worthan predicts.
"If Democrats get all three [House, Senate and Governor's seat], it would be very difficult to stop it," he said.
There is a tantalizing prospect of money flowing into the state from taxing legalized sales, but Worthan says he hasn't given that any thought.
"I think the down side of recreational legalization so outweighs any amount of money that could be made, that the revenue shouldn't even be a factor. Look at the law enforcement side - what blood level would constitute impaired driving with marijuana? I've read some things about some tests being developed, roadside or blood tests, but I'm not sure any have been proven for use in court. We'd have to go into that.
"We've got a big enough problem in this state with alcohol on the roads, we don't need another substance readily available that could impact people's driving safety," Worthan adds.
He is also concerned that the more legalization progresses, the more chance that marijuana products can end up in the hands of young people and others who shouldn't have it.
While Worthan had come around to accept medicinal marijuana ahead of the 2018 vote, when asked if he now believes the right decision was made, he hesitates.
"I will reserve judgement until the thing gets working," the veteran of the statehouse says. "There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that cannabidiol oil has some helpful effects. I don't know that we've seen this as widely accepted fact in the medical field yet."
Worthan said he had zero response from local constituents on the medicinal marijuana legalization - only emails from those wanting marijuana with more of a "high."
Some sellers are complaining that they might not be able to make enough money if they can only sell low THC product, to those with a very limited list of acceptable medical conditions.
"If they think they have to have recreational use legal to make a go of it, good luck to them. I don't see it happening any time soon in Iowa," Worthan said.