ST. PAUL, Minn. — Iowa and Minnesota lawmakers are exploring a system to allow Iowa residents to buy medical marijuana oil from their northern neighbor, lawmakers from both states have told The Associated Press.
As Iowa’s legislature barrels toward adjournment, legislative leaders are still struggling to expand a 2014 law that legalized marijuana oil for certain patients suffering seizures but left them nowhere to buy it. Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said Friday they’re now considering an agreement with Minnesota as one option.
“I don’t know if anything will get the support it requires to actually move forward, but we’re going to keep working on it,” said Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake.
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Piggybacking on Minnesota’s new medical marijuana program would be a novel setup. It could give Iowa patients an outlet to buy medication while also sending more business to the manufacturers who have struggled with low patient enrollment in Minnesota.
But it would also raise concerns from the federal government about Schedule I drugs moving across state lines. Iowa patients would face long drives to get medicine — the closest dispensary is three hours northeast from Des Moines — and advocacy groups argue that Iowa should set up its own system to produce and sell medical marijuana.
Officials are discussing how to assuage the federal government, as well as the registration details of who could buy the marijuana pills, oils and vapors. Minnesota also restricts sales to patients with nine serious conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis or seizure disorders.
The idea of leaning on Minnesota originated in Des Moines, but legislative leaders in St. Paul have been receptive, though they stress Minnesota’s tightly-controlled program would not be expanded. Minnesota would need to clarify that residents from neighboring states can purchase the medication and make some technical fixes to the law passed in 2014.
Rep. Nick Zerwas, an Elk River Republican leading the charge in Minnesota, said that may need to wait until next year.
“It’s doing the right thing for patients that need medicine. If my neighbor needs help and I can help them, we oughta do that,” Zerwas said.
Launched just last summer, Minnesota’s medical marijuana program has struggled to pick up business. Just 1,275 patients were registered as of Friday and only three of the eight dispensaries authorized by law — in Minneapolis, Eagan and Rochester — have opened.
The Rochester site, about 40 miles from Iowa’s northern border, would be closest to Iowa customers if the partnership comes together. A representative from Minnesota Medical Solutions, one of two manufacturers and the company that runs the dispensary, did not immediately return a request for comment.
That loss of business doesn’t sit well with Threase Harms, who’s leading the lobbying effort for the advocacy group known as Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis, a staple at the Capitol this year. She expressed concern about who would have authority over Iowa’s patients, who would be able to buy the medication and the potential costs.
“I’m not sure Iowa legislators want to give economic development opportunities and potential state revenue away to the state of Minnesota,” she said. “That’s probably a big red flag.”
A bill that would create a system for manufacturing, dispensing and possessing cannabis oil in Iowa — and expand the number of conditions that qualify — has stalled in the Republican-controlled House this session.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City has pushed for that kind of broader plan. He was skeptical of the Minnesota option, saying that Senate Democrats weren’t consulted and calling potential issues with the federal government a significant hurdle.
“It’s rather bizarre that Speaker Upmeyer is trying to cut a deal with (Minnesota) … and she’s not able to walk across the rotunda and work with other Iowans,” Bolkcom said.
Robert “Lewy” Lewis, 63-year-old activist from central Iowa who suffers from intractable pain caused by several medical conditions, criticized the idea of using Minnesota’s existing network.
“Why don’t we just do it the right way and make it happen here?” he said. “It’s not a slippery slope.”
Rodriguez reported from Des Moines