The Impact Of Medical Marijuana Legalization On Patients In Iowa

Impact Of Medical Marijuana Legalization

Many Iowans who support legalizing marijuana are surprised to learn their state government is violating federal law. They say Iowa leaders owe it to voters to square the medical marijuana program with federal law.

The Hawkeye State is the only medical marijuana program in the country that doesn’t offer smokable marijuana. But that could change.

Chronic Pain

Patients suffering from chronic pain may experience significant benefits from using marijuana. A disease, injury, or a condition like arthritis, cancer, or multiple sclerosis may cause the pain. The pain is ongoing and can cause a lot of distress. Chronic pain can lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety, and loss of appetite.

A patient’s dosage of opioids may be decreased by using medical marijuana in lowa. One study discovered a correlation between the implementation of medical marijuana laws and a decline in opioid prescriptions for Medicaid beneficiaries. It also demonstrated a link between allowing dispensaries and lessening Schedule III opioid prescriptions.

The most recent version of Iowa’s medical cannabis law significantly changed the list of qualifying conditions, adding chronic pain and PTSD. However, the law still leaves a few gaps for patients.

Iowa only has five dispensaries and two companies that run them. But demand has been slow. The companies say they are losing money in Iowa and offsetting those losses with profits from other states. They are asking the state to allow smokable marijuana in the dispensaries.

The American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians do not take a position on legalizing medical marijuana. However, they do support rescheduling the drug to facilitate research better. They also call for removing barriers to obtaining the drug for research purposes.


In 2014, Iowa lawmakers enacted one of the first medical marijuana laws, allowing patients to possess low-THC cannabis oils on a case-by-case basis. That law was significantly revised in 2017 and 2019 to allow a much longer list of qualifying conditions. But the state’s program is still among the most restrictive in the nation – it only allows access to cannabis preparations (not raw flower) and limits how much THC patients can consume every 90 days.

The law also makes it a misdemeanor for a patient to smoke marijuana in public. And even if a patient has a prescription, employers may be reluctant to hire them or offer them a promotion after they test positive for marijuana on a drug screen. Moreover, it’s unclear whether a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana will count as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The two companies that run Iowa’s five dispensaries are pushing Iowa to add smokable marijuana to the state’s medical cannabis program. They say it would be less expensive and make the products more appealing to patients. Iowa’s limited marijuana options are confusing police and prosecutors, too. Recently, two marijuana possession charges were dismissed because the defendants had cards and products from other states that aren’t available in Iowa. This novel reciprocity defense has only been used twice in Iowa, but it could help other people charged with possession of marijuana avoid a conviction.


As Iowa’s medical marijuana program expands, lawmakers are looking at ways to regulate the drug. The House Democrats’ proposal would require the same agency that oversees alcohol laws to manage marijuana sales in Iowa. They also want to create a ten percent tax on the product divided between scholarships for Iowa college students, mental health services, and local law enforcement agencies.

The proposal will allow neurologist-recommended medical cannabis sold in Iowa for people with certain conditions, including seizures. However, it would not allow patients to smoke bud in public. Smoking any controlled substance in public is a misdemeanor in Iowa. It’s also illegal to drive while under the influence of any drug.

Despite these restrictions, the bill is gaining support. It was backed by several parents of children with intractable epilepsy.

Research has shown that medical marijuana can help alleviate the symptoms of some chronic conditions, including PTSD and depression. It can also relieve severe pain and help reduce the frequency of seizures in people with disorders like Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. A recent study found that medical marijuana use was associated with lower prescriptions for Schedule III opioids, mostly codeine. However, this was a small proportion of total Medicaid spending on opioids, and the savings were offset by the cost of patients paying out-of-pocket for the drug.


Iowa’s medical marijuana program only allows patients to purchase low-THC cannabis oils. A bill introduced this week would add smokable marijuana to the program.

The new law will allow people with various debilitating conditions to use marijuana if they have a physician’s recommendation and a signed healthcare practitioner certification form. Qualifying conditions include cancer or other terminal diseases; severe chronic pain; nausea, vomiting, and severe wasting associated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer; seizures, including those related to Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome; multiple sclerosis, with spasms that are not controlled by other medications; or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease and other disorders with symptoms such as uncontrollable shaking, weakness or muscle rigidity.

It’s important to remember that research on marijuana is a young science, and the effects of policy changes could vary by the type of product used and method of consumption. For example, high-risk users (those identified as arrestees, polysubstance users, or those admitted to treatment) may be less responsive to policy changes than casual or light users.

Although rescheduling is unlikely, the state may seek an exemption from federal regulations like those granted to peyote, a psychoactive cactus used as a religious sacrament by some Native American communities. If that happens, the Iowa program could be more resilient to unforeseen federal interference.

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