Iowa lags behind other states; legislature fails to vote on bills to stop jailing cannabis consumers
Last update: October 6, 2021
Iowa is lagging behind other states both in the nation as a whole and in its region on marijuana policy. Unlike 31 other states, Iowa continues to arrest individuals for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Neighboring Illinois and South Dakota have legalized cannabis for adults (though South Dakota’s law is tied up in court), while Nebraska, Minnesota, and Missouri have decriminalized simple possession.
But in Iowa, first-offense possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, one of the most severe first-offense penalties in the country. These draconian penalties hit low-income and communities of color the hardest.
According to data complied by the ACLU, Black Iowans are nearly eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana prohibition than white individuals. Let your lawmakers know it’s past time Iowa rethink its unequal, unjust approach to cannabis.
Lawmakers proposed several bills in 2021 to legalize or decriminalize cannabis, but none received a vote. Sen. Joe Bolkcom’s SF 83 would legalize possession of up to an ounce for adults 21 and older, while his SB 407 would reduce various penalties involving cannabis, including reducing the penalty for adults 21 and older possessing up to half an ounce to a $100 civil fine. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Thomas Gerhold’s HF 751 would legalize and regulate cannabis and expunge convictions. The legislature’s regular session adjourned without the bills being taken up, but the bills carry over to 2022.
Medical CBD program expands, but remains too restrictive for many patients
On June 29, 2020, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed a bill (HF 2589) that expands the list of medical conditions that qualify for medical cannabis preparations, revises the amount of THC that can be possessed, and makes other changes — both good and bad — to the state's medical cannabidiol program. The law, which took effect on July 1, 2020:
Revises the 3% THC cap to instead allow products with a total of 4.5 grams of THC every 90 days, with exceptions for cases where providers specify a specific, greater quantity is needed;
Adds post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and autism with self-harm to the list of qualifying conditions;
Allows any patient with “chronic pain” — instead of “untreatable pain” — to qualify, thus greatly expanding the number of pain patients who qualify;
Allows podiatrists, physicians' assistants, and advance practice nurses to recommend cannabis;
Removes the Department of Transportation’s role in ID cards; and
Allows property owners and employers to ban medical cannabis use and provides that workers' compensation and health care do not have to cover medical cannabis.
Reports on the program are available here. As of August 2021, 1,489 health care practitioners had issued certifications for 6,831 active patients.
In 2019, Gov. Reynolds vetoed a bill that would have allowed patients purchase medical cannabis preparations with up to 25 grams of THC over 90 days. The current default limit — 4.5 grams every 90 days — is insufficient for many patients.
Medical cannabidiol access was dramatically reduced in 2020, when one of the state’s two manufacturers and two of the state’s five medical cannabidiol dispensaries permanently closed. Replacement licenses were awarded to the Iowa Cannabis Company, which is opening dispensaries in Iowa City and Council Bluffs. The Iowa City dispensary opened on October 1, 2021, and the Council Bluffs location is expected to open the week of October 6, 2021. Iowa Cannabis Company’s manufacturing facility will be located in Iowa City.
Iowa’s law continues to have some major shortcomings that drive up prices and limit access, including that it prohibits cannabis in its natural, flower form, that edibles are not allowed, and that it has far too few manufacturers and dispensing locations. When Iowa Relief’s operations closed, The Gazette quoted Cedar Rapids Councilmember Dale Todd explaining, “Draconian parameters that were set on the industry’s ability to market and sell medical cannabis resulted in the demise of this business. The limited market prevented the industry from developing a sustainable business model, and everybody seemed to know that this would be the case. It’s like watching a ship sink slowly.”
Iowa borders Illinois, where cannabis preparations — including flower and edibles — are available to any adult who is 21 or older.