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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 24, 2017

A conversation with the leader of Iowa’s new medical marijuana board

By Rod Boshart, The Gazette | Oct 19, 2017

DES MOINES — A new state advisory panel charged with helping implement an expanded medical marijuana law in Iowa is trying to balance the demands of an expedited timeline with a go-slow desire to avoid pitfalls that may accompany the experiment to widen the approved uses of cannabidiol.

“I think the state of Iowa is trying to be careful but compassionate how they roll this out,” said Mike McKelvey, a Mason City police captain who was Gov. Kim Reynolds’ choice as chairman of Iowa’s Medical Cannabidiol Board, which was created during the legislative session earlier this year.

The board — consisting of McKelvey as the law enforcement representative and eight experts in various medical fields — has been tasked with helping develop a plan to set up a state-sanctioned system of growing and dispensing marijuana-derived cannabis oil and to widen the variety of medical conditions for which doctors could prescribe lower-strength cannabidiol to patients.

“There’s a lot of angst from some parents or patients who have been unable to get this legally in the state and they want to get it because it has apparently had significant beneficial impacts on their children who have seizure disorders or other issues and they’re very overanxious to get this,” McKelvey said.

“At the same time, I think I and the other board members will try to learn from how some other states may have implemented the process — either too hastily or without checks and balances just to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks or important things are missed. It’s kind of new, uncharted territory for Iowa but I think we’ll look at other states and try to at least give it a decent shot.”

Several years ago, former Gov. Terry Branstad and the Legislature agreed to decriminalize possession of cannabis oil purchased out-of-state for treatment of chronic epilepsy. The new law allows Iowa doctors to prescribe cannabis oil for treatment of more than a dozen chronic and debilitating conditions and provides for the creation of no more than two businesses to grow marijuana and produce medical cannabidiol and no more than five businesses to sell it.

Q: Licensing deadlines are Dec. 1 for the manufacturers, April 1 for the dispensaries and availability of products for purchase by December 2018. Is that timeline too aggressive?

A: I suppose it depends who you ask. If you were a patient and wanted to get this stuff legally in Iowa, it’s probably not soon enough in their opinion. But I think Iowa is trying to make sure that the rules and regulations and sustainability of this process is in place before we move forward.

Q: Former Gov. Branstad always expressed concern over unintended consequences associated with a creeping acceptance of marijuana. Do you share that concern?

A: I think Iowa is...doing this carefully to make sure we’re not going to let something slip through the cracks that may impact Iowa negatively down the road. The marijuana from the ‘60s and ‘70s was probably under 5 percent THC, and kind of the average street value of marijuana today is closer to 20 percent THC. There’s also some genetic engineering going on of marijuana, some of the stuff that wasn’t around back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so there are some concerns out there and I think it wise to move slowly.

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