A newly created advisory panel tasked with implementing expanded medical cannabis laws in Iowa is attempting to juggle the demands of a harried timeline with a desire to go slowly and avoid potential pitfalls that might accompany the state’s intention to approve more medical uses for cannabidiol, commonly called CBD.
“I think the state of Iowa is trying to be careful but compassionate about how they roll this out,” says Mike McKelvey, police captain from Mason City and Governor Kim Reynolds’ choice for chair of Iowa’s Medical Cannabidiol Board, created earlier this year during a legislative session. Besides McKelvey as law enforcement representative, the board also consists of eight medical experts in various fields.
The board has the important job of helping to develop a regulatory plan to implement a state-sanctioned system of cultivating and distributing pot-derived cannabis oil, as well as widen the number of medical conditions for which physicians may prescribe low-dose cannabidiol to patients. The need for this is high, according to McKelvey, who had this to say about it:
“There is a lot of angst from some parents or patients who have been unable to get this legally in the state, and they want to get it because it has apparently had significant beneficial impacts on their children who have seizure disorders or other issues, and they are very overanxious to get this.” That was not all McKelvey had to say, however.
“At the same time, I think I and the other board members will try to learn from how some other states may have implemented the process, either too hastily or without checks and balances, just to make sure things do not fall through the cracks or important things are missed,” he said. “It is kind of new, unchartered territory for Iowa, but I think we will look at other states and try to at least give it a decent shot and hopefully make some good suggestions moving forward.”
Former governor, Terry Branstad, agreed in Legislature several years ago to decriminalize the possession of marijuana oil bought outside of state borders for the treatment of chronic epilepsy within it, but the new law permits doctors in Iowa to prescribe marijuana oil for treating more than a dozen persistent and debilitating medical conditions.
The latest ordinance also provides for the creation of two large-scale marijuana businesses to cultivate crops and extract cannabidiol for the production of cannabis oil, as well as five businesses to sell it. In a sit-down question and answer session with reporters, McKelvey answered four pivotal questions about the weed industry in Iowa:
December 1 is the licensing deadline for manufacturers, April 1 for dispensaries, and December 2018 for legal sales. Is that timeline too aggressive?
“I suppose it depends on who you ask. If you were a patient and wanted to get this stuff legally in Iowa, it is probably not soon enough in your opinion, but I think Iowa is trying to make sure that the rules and regulations and sustainability of this process is in place before we can move forward. I know some of the ideas here in selecting a manufacturer or a dispensary is that they are going to be sustainable long-term to be reliable in producing, providing enough product for the patients that need it.”
What is Iowa looking for in terms of new operations?
“Making sure that the internal process is reliable. Under Iowa law, the THC content cannot be more than three percent, so just making sure it is a reliable product and it is what they say it is. How much can they produce? Will they be able to make enough to take care of the patient load in Iowa? Timeline? I do not know how fast they can grow and produce this.”
“Also, the security controls, are they going to monitor their inventory, are they going to have security systems or security guards or whatever in place to control access and loss or theft, and then also employee monitoring? Obviously, you would have to have credible, law-abiding employees in place versus some illegal operation, so there is going to be a lot of checks and balances that I think the board and the Department of Public Health will look at to select up to two manufacturers.”
From the perspective of law enforcement, is there any trepidation about expansion into this area?
“When you look across the country and the trend toward medical marijuana, marijuana legalization or decriminalization, obviously, it is a growing trend, and we are only talking about CBD oil here. We are not talking about edibles or the leafy stuff that you smoke. We know, as law enforcement, that there is some interest in Iowa to look at these other forms.”
However, “In law enforcement, we also know from looking at our own drug seizures that most of the marijuana coming into Iowa is from these external states, especially the ones where it is legal, because there is a lot of diversion of medical or legal marijuana that is coming into Iowa and being sold illegally for other purposes.All of this stuff is a concern.”
“I think CBD is probably the least of the major concerns. When you are comparing leafy marijuana and edibles to CBD, I think CBD is probably a nice, safe way to start looking at this if there is going to be a broader discussion on marijuana in general. I think we are kind of getting our toes in the pool on CBDs, and just kind of assessing that first before we take a big jump and go to the leaf or edible variety.”
Ex-Governor Branstad expressed frequent concern about the potentially unintended consequences of widespread marijuana acceptance. Do you share that worry?
“Like I said before, I think Iowa is trying to be careful but compassionate, doing this carefully to make sure we are not going to let something slip through the cracks that may impact Iowa negatively down the road. There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there that the public assumes the marijuana today is the same marijuana from back in Woodstock or that their grandparents may have smoked.”
“What we are seeing today is that the marijuana from the ‘60s and ‘70s was probably under five percent THC, and kind of the average street value of marijuana today is closer to 20 percent THC. There is also some genetic engineering going on of marijuana, some of the stuff that was not around back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so there are some concerns out there, and I think it wise to move slowly in this area.”