Storm Lake lawmaker: Zero chance for recreational marijuana this session
STORM LAKE — For proponents of recreational marijuana, a Storm Lake legislator has a buzzkill message, “It isn’t going to happen.”
Iowa Sen. Joe Bolckom, D-Iowa City, recently introduced legislation to end the prohibition on marijuana and legalize use statewide.
“There is absolutely no talk about it here in the House,” veteran state Rep. Gary Worthan told the Pilot-Tribune this week. “Whether people are interested in recreational marijuana or not, there in no appetite for this legislation here in the House — it will never come to the floor.”
Even Bolckom admits that his effort is probably a pipe dream — at least as long as Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office.
Worthan wasn’t surprised by the ploy. “(Bolckom) has been pushing for it practically as long as I’ve been here. Even when we passed medicinal marijuana, we knew people would be looking immediately to take it farther — I said then that it would never be enough.”
Worthan concedes that a change in the political landscape in Des Moines could make legalization viable.
“Going totally recreational won’t move on this side, this session,” Worthan said. “If Republicans happen to lose both chambers and the governorship, then I think the issue could have legs.”
Bolkcom wants a system that would license companies to grow, manufacture and sell marijuana products to anyone age 21 and older, and proposes that the state regulate the industry the same way it handles and licenses liquor.
He says legalization will create jobs and tax revenue — some of which could be used to fund substance abuse awareness campaigns and treatment programs.
In Colorado, where consumers are now paying 15 percent sales tax on the products (raised from 10 percent in 2017), the industry produced a quarter of a billion dollars for the state in tax, licenses and fees in 2017 alone. The lion’s share of that money goes to public health and environment, education and human services budgets.
“Despite the fervor, marijuana isn’t the big green budget bandage that many envisioned,” Colorado Public Radio reported, however, noting that income from marijuana provides for only about 1 percent of the state budget.
Still, that is a lot of money for cash-strapped state governments to resist harvesting.
Worthan argues that such a decision shouldn’t be about making revenue for the state, and suggests that negative impacts being seen in states that legalize the drug come with a cost, too.
“I think we would go backward on the money thing,” he said. “The problems would cost the state more than it would make.”
Iowa may not be able to continue avoiding the recreational marijuana dialogue. Michigan voters recently approved a legal marijuana program, and new incoming governors in Illinois and Minnesota have each pledged to push for legalization in those states. If surrounding states become potentially poised to join the 10 that already have legalization, pressure would likely mount on Iowa.
“We can sit by and watch those new businesses and new jobs go to Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, or to Rochester, Minnesota, and have Iowans take their hard-earned money and go to those states,” Bolkcom says on Iowa’s inaction.
Worthan, however, says he has heard little from his constituents about any desire for legalization.
Meanwhile, however, one year after legalization of medicinal marijuana for those who suffer from a specific list of chronic conditions, Worthan says the state senate may push out a bill that would raise the allowable level of THC — the psychoactive element in cannabis that makes users “high” — from 3 percent to 13 percent. Proponents say stronger products are needed to address pain, but in late 2018, the Iowa Medical Cannabis Board, made up mostly of doctors, advised against the increase, at least until the state has more experience with the medicinal products.
“We have no facts and figures back yet on the sale of medicinal marijuana,” Worthan agreed when asked if he felt the Legislature made a wise decision.
Worthan had also predicted the push for raising the allowable THC level.
“If there’s solid proof that it helps in the pain management for these conditions, we’ll take a look at it,” he said.
Worthan says he has had no input from patients in his district, and is uncertain how many people are seeking to make use of medicinal marijuana since sales began Dec. 1.
For users in his district, the nearest dispensary would be an hour’s drive away.
“It will probably eventually be like any other prescription situation, where once they become established consumers of medication, they will probably be able to order it by mail,” he said.
He is uncertain if the system will ever be expanded to allow more than the single producer and the small number of legal dispensaries.
“I suppose it will come down to whether it would be profitable for someone to establish a dispensary in a place like Storm Lake,” he said.