DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he has not ruled out a proposal to grow and dispense marijuana for limited medical use, but he added any such arrangement would have to be under tight state regulation to prevent illegal purposes or other unintended consequences.
During his weekly news conference, Branstad was asked about a bipartisan recommendation by a bipartisan legislative study panel that lawmakers next session develop a program to produce, process and dispense medical marijuana to address shortcomings in a new state law regarding access and standards to cannabis oil.
“I’m willing to look at all proposals. I just want to make sure that the safety of Iowans is protected and that we don’t have unintended consequences,” the five-term Republican told reporters.
“I think you’ve got to be very careful because you don’t want unintended consequences, you don’t want marijuana being grown and then being used illegally,” he said. “I think it would really depend upon how carefully and strictly it could be managed and controlled.”
The request for the ability to buy cannabis oil grown and produced in Iowa was made by parents of children with severe epilepsy accompanied by seizures who have encountered significant roadblocks since lawmakers last session agreed to grant them immunity from prosecution for possession small amounts of cannabis oil to use as a medical treatment.
Members of the Legislature’s Cannabidiol Implementation Study Committee also called for the federal government and Iowa’s Board of Pharmacy to consider reclassifying marijuana as a scheduled II controlled substance to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana-derived medications. But the 10-member panel balked at proposal to expand provisions of a state law granting legal protection for Iowans authorized to possess cannabis oil for medical use to treat or alleviate symptoms of intractable epilepsy to a broader list of chronic illnesses.
The proposal’s legislative future is uncertain because the make-up and control of the 86th Iowa General Assembly will be decided in the Nov. 4 general election. However, legislative Republicans expressed skepticism about the cost of the study panel’s recommendation and wanted to see results of the law passed last session before embarking on any expansions.
Sen. Jack Hatch, a Des Moines Democrat challenging Branstad in the 2014 governor’s race, told reporters Monday that parents have made a convincing case that the current law is unworkable and he would support exploring a tightly regulated system of producing and dispensing medical marijuana.
“I think the obligation and the commitment we made to those families has got to be fulfilled and, if it means that we have to produce it here and dispense it here under tight regulations, then that needs to be part of our obligation,” Hatch said.
If elected governor, Hatch said he would work to resolve the “legislative stalemate” over medical marijuana and direct state agencies to resolve the barriers that parents are facing in getting access to marijuana-derived cannabis oil.
“You’re always concerned about unintended consequences,” Hatch said in addressing Branstad’s concerns, “but I think the governor is making more of them up. He still falls in this category of this cultural recognition that marijuana was a recreational drug and he’s got to get over that. It is now has sound medical purposes and our consumers are needing it.
“We need to recognize that genie is already out of the bottle and we can’t put it back in,” he added. “Now let’s make sure that we actually can provide the medical treatment that we promised them.”