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Bill in Senate Proposes a Medical Marijuana Law for Iowa

Twenty-seven states in the US have some kind of ballot process to get laws passed outside of the legislative process. These initiatives and referendums are a type of direct democracy that does an end run around state level politics. In Iowa, we do not have this process. Since most of the medical marijuana legalization has come by way of popular vote, advocates for marijuana legalization have been stuck with no way forward in our state. But that looks like it may change.

A bill introduced by State Senator Joe Bolkom would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to patients in certain categories, based on diagnosis. According to the Iowa State Daily, more than 64% of our citizens support allowing marijuana for medical purposes, and this bill would have Iowa joining the 18 other states where medical marijuana is legal.

If it moves forward, Iowa will face all the problems seen in other states where medical pot is allowed. It’s not just the conflict with federal law (where marijuana is still illegal) but conflicts within state law surrounding manufacture and sale. Possession for medical reasons is one thing, but patients have to have a supply chain and even with licensed dispensaries, the medical weed comes with the risk of supplying more than just the allowed population. Marijuana doesn’t come labeled. Once it’s cut from a plant, there’s no easy way to tell if it’s from a legal or illegal supplier.

A similar bill was nixed in the House and even those who support medical weed don’t expect our legislature to take it on. Without a referendum at the ballot, there’s no real push to take action. And looking at what other states have run into, action comes at a price – a price many simply aren’t willing to pay. Legislators would have to craft an entire structure of producing weed and distributing it, adding regulatory hurdles and enforcement mechanisms as they go.

In some ways, it’s easier just to lower the penalties for possession of marijuana and use common sense in enforcing existing laws. Patients who benefit from pot smoking will still be technically illegal, but prosecutors can be flexible about charging someone who obviously has a need for the drug.

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