DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa’s medical cannabis oil program has cost the state more than $100,000 to create and issue registration cards to about 50 people, even as the effort has faced criticism that it’s cumbersome and largely useless.
The Legislature last year approved a law that allows residents to use oil derived from the cannabis plant to treat chronic epilepsy and to set up a system for people to obtain registration cards. To implement the law, the Iowa Department of Transportation last fall asked Massachusetts-based MorphoTrust USA to design and create the cards.
According to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request, MorphoTrust USA billed the Transportation Department $115,000 for its work, which was eventually paid for through the state general fund. Another $21,500 was spent by the Iowa Public Health Department to review the card applications.
Iowa DOT spokeswoman Melissa Spiegel said the cost was reasonable based on quotes the department has received for similar work on other cards. The agency, which was tasked by state law to make separate tamperproof cards for patients and caregivers, now pays roughly $10 for each card, which is free to the user.
Spiegel also said card registration information is shared with law enforcement for background checks during traffic stops and other scenarios.
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The state began accepting applications for cards in late January. As of Wednesday, the state had sent out 53 cards, according to the state Department of Public Health, which works with transportation officials to run the program.
“The Legislature required us to produce and issue registration cards,” Spiegel said. “We’re really kind of on the back end of this.”
The new law allows people with severe epilepsy, if approved by an Iowa-based neurologist, to legally use cannabis oil that has the plant compound cannabidiol (CBD) and has very little of the THC compound known to give a person a “high.”
However, it’s illegal to manufacture cannabis oil in Iowa and federal law bars its transport across state lines. Some companies have offered to ship CBD oil to Iowa, though some question its legality.
Sally Gaer, a representative with Iowans 4 Medical Marijuana, said she and her 25-year-old daughter, Margaret, are card holders. She said that while the cards offer her peace of mind, she has never used it.
“It doesn’t work for a great majority of medically fragile Iowans,” the West Des Moines resident said. “Obviously if only 50 people have cards, it’s not working. It’s not enough.”
Others note that getting a card is extremely difficult even if someone has severe epilepsy.
Iowa resident Jeri Goodell said her 3-year-old grandson, Garrett, has severe epilepsy, but because his parents live near the northern state border, they’ve sought specialized medical treatment in nearby states. The law requires approval by an Iowa doctor before a card can be issued, and some families say that can be a lengthy process.
Goodell, Gaer and others have advocated changing the law to allow the legal manufacturing of the oil in Iowa and to expand its use for people with other medical conditions. Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill last session, but it didn’t garner enough support.
“It’s really pretty worthless, the card, at this point, without a comprehensive cannabis program,” Goodell said.
Republican Rep. Clel Baudler, who only backed the legislation creating the law after it allowed law enforcement to view card registrations, doubted major changes were eminent.
“Even though there’s some parts of it that some of us would change, there’s others of us that wouldn’t change a thing. And there’s others of us that would do away with it completely, and others of us that would open it up like Colorado,” Baudler said.
“So I think we’ll stay right where we’re at,” he said. “I don’t foresee any movement this coming session.”