Iowa law makes marijuana oil legal to possess but impossible to get


By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchdog

DES MOINES, Iowa — Paperwork and bureaucracy but no actual medicine.

That’s Iowa’s new prescription for children suffering from intractable epilepsy.

In May, Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law the Medical Cannabidiol Act. The new law allows Iowans to possess small amounts of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive oil derived from marijuana plants, if a neurologist certifies the oil is necessary for the treatment of a child with intractable epilepsy.

Cannabidiol has been shown reduce epileptic seizures, especially in children, according to state Rep. Rob Taylor, R-West Des Moines. Taylor was one of the main proponents of the bill.

The Administrative Rules Review Committee of the state Legislature on Tuesday gave final approval to the procedures by which the Iowa Department of Public Health will administer the new law.

Starting Jan. 30, a parent or primary caregiver of an epileptic child will be able to get a photo ID that allows them to possess up to 32 ounces of cannabidiol, after filing the necessary paperwork and being approved by IDPH.

What they won’t be able to get is the actual oil.

It will remain illegal to produce or sell cannabidiol in Iowa.

In the states where the oil is legal, Colorado and Oregon, it’s illegal to sell cannabidiol to nonresidents. Even if an Iowan were able to buy it in one of those states, transporting it across state lines is a federal crime.

“That’s the reality of the situation,” Deborah Thompson, policy adviser for IDPH, told Iowa Watchdog. “There are still some very fundamental barriers to parents getting the oil.”

Although the passage of the Medical Cannabidiol Act was preceded by a long and passionate debate in the state Senate, the issue of access to the oil was barely mentioned.

PAPERWORK BUT NO MEDICINE: Rules have been approved to allow Iowans to get photo ID that will permit than to possess a medicinal oil derived from marijuana plants. But under the law, no one in Iowa will be able to legally acquire the oil. Still, Rep. Rob Taylor supports the law and describes it as “one more tool” in the toolbox for people dealing with serious illness.

It wasn’t until last month, when parents concerned about their inability to get cannabidiol testified before a legislative committee, that the issue began to gain the attention of lawmakers.

“A couple of legislators on the committee even said, we thought we did such a wonderful thing and it seems we really didn’t do much,” Thompson recalled.

According to Taylor, the situation should surprise no one.

“It was a very limited bill. All it did was give citizens of Iowa who possess and are registered with the state safe harbor under Iowa state law. Meaning we wouldn’t prosecute them if they have cannabidiol,” Taylor told Iowa Watchdog.

Asked what good it does to create an approval process for an item Iowans won’t be able to legally obtain, Taylor said, “It’s one more tool in their toolbox for families dealing with a very, very disturbing disorder.”

Iowa Watchdog contacted Branstad’s office to ask if the governor was aware of the access issue when he signed the law and what he thought should be done about the problem.

In an emailed reply, the governor’s spokesman, Jimmy Centers, didn’t directly address Iowa Watchdog’s questions.

Instead, Centers provided a general statement: “Gov. Branstad believes the bi-partisan program passed in Iowa needs time to take effect and its results evaluated before exploring expansion into other illnesses or increasing the production, processing and distribution in Iowa.”

Taylor believes the problem of access will be addressed in the next legislative session.

“I don’t know if there will be any changes to the law, but I expect a lot discussion and debate,” he said.

Thompson agreed.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s going away,” she said.

Contact Paul Brennan at