Republican lawmakers in Iowa have approached Minnesota officials, to see if that state would let Iowans go north to get medical marijuana. The governors of both states are involved in the discussions.
“It’s very expensive to grow and distribute in the state, so the scale of economy doesn’t present us a good option,” says Representative Zach Nunn, a Republican from Bondurant. “If things change at the federal level or the scientific level, this provides us a rip cord.”
Iowa lawmakers decriminalized possession of cannabis oil two years ago for treatment of chronic epilepsy, but the parents of children who suffer from the condition can’t buy it in Iowa. Medical marijuana became available by prescription in Minnesota, for Minnesotans, last year.
“We’re thinking what Iowans could potentially do to acquire it immediately, to acquire it affordably and to allow them access to it in a way that there’s some quality control,” Nunn says. “Minnesota certainly has the ability to do things like that.”
Iowa parents who’ve gotten a license to give cannabis oil to their epileptic children either travel out-of-state or order it online.
“A concern that we currently have is that a number of Iowans are currently ordering it through the mail,” Nunn says. “And it’s very difficult to know what the quality of it is for what a person is putting into their body and that’s scary not only for patients, but for caregivers and parents.”
Minnesota’s dispensaries are state-regulated and Nunn says that means the quality of the cannabis oil is monitored. He suggests there’s a financial benefit for Minnesota, too, because its program has been expensive to set up and run.
“I think that they see a real value-add for their residents to be able to have a quality program that is sustainable and enables the recipients to have an affordable form of cannabis oil,” Nunn says.
Minnesota has two growers, but only two of the eight dispensaries authorized have opened because of low patient numbers. Minnesota now lets people suffering from chronic pain, AIDS, glaucoma and a few other conditions get a prescription to use cannabis oil, pills or vapor. Nunn says if Iowa does enter into a distribution agreement with Minnesota, it’s possible Iowa’s law would be expanded to mirror that list of conditions.
“I think that there is a desire based on what medical research is available, both internationally and in test trials to say that there is probably an opportunity to expand that beyond just intractable epilepsy,” Nunn says.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake says it’s worth exploring these options with Minnesota.
“The question that was raised here was access, so this seems to go a long ways in allowing access. If there is support for that, then maybe it’ll go,” Upmeyer says. “We’ll see.”
Iowans who’ve been lobbying legislators on the issue say relying on Minnesota wouldn’t adequately address access issues. The nearest dispensary in Minnesota is in Rochester, which is about 40 miles north of the Iowa/Minnesota line.