Iowa’s only licensed medical marijuana manufacturer, MedPharm Iowa, says its product is ready and it’s looking for more customers.
At least 1,000 Iowans have gotten doctors’ approval to use medical marijuana, Lucas Nelson, MedPharm’s general manager, told the Des Moines Register, but others may need more or different products to find relief from their ailments.
On Wednesday, Nelson and Stephen Wilson, MedPharm’s dispensary operations manager, publicly presented the products that will be available when the state’s five licensed dispensaries open in the coming months. So far, the medical cannabis company is producing tinctures — medicine made by dissolving a drug in alcohol — capsules and creams.
The state approved medical marijuana for limited use in 2017 and strictly limited the types of medicine that could be produced and sold. Since then, backers — and some lawmakers — have advocated expanding the law so that it would be available in different forms and to more people. But Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer and others have said the program should have time to develop before they undertake changes.
For now, MedPharm will offer three products with ranging levels of cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, and tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC. CBD is a type of non-intoxicating cannabinoid that can help people with seizures or Crohn’s and Parkinson’s diseases; THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid that can help people with cancers, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Multiple sclerosis and terminal illnesses manage their pain.
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Along with a slideshow that showed growing marijuana plants, Wilson shared mock-ups of the products and labels, which list the CBD to THC ratios, as well as one of MedPharm’s planned dispensaries, located in Windsor Heights.
“It’s set up like a Verizon store, so patients feel comfortable,” Wilson said. “We want people to feel comfortable going in, to trust us and trust what you’re putting in your body.”
It is not clear whether Iowa has a big enough market for medical marijuana to sustain MedPharm and other dispensary companies looking to enter the state. Only 438 people have been issued registration cards, which allow them to purchase medical marijuana, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
But there are several hundred Iowans “waiting in the pipeline,” Nelson said, as MedPharm has encouraged patients to hold off on getting their card until dispensaries open, because the cards are only valid for one year.
“We expect those numbers will shoot up as they go pick up their cards,” Nelson said.
Even though Nelson was optimistic about increasing the patient pool, Wilson said he had talked to some patients who have had trouble convincing their doctors to allow them to sign up for medical marijuana, especially in rural areas.
“We want to be clear: Doctors are never prescribing this; they’re just certifying these patients can use it,” Wilson said.
But to make medical marijuana more effective (and less costly), MedPharm leaders are still pushing for legislators to lift Iowa’s current 3 percent cap on THC. The chemical is what makes recreational marijuana users high, but medical marijuana proponents say it is also an essential part of what makes their products useful for the treatment of pain and some other conditions.
Limiting THC quantities based on total milligrams instead of by percent for each product would let people take fewer pills every day to treat their pain and cost less overall, Nelson argued.
“Rather than focusing on that individual capsule and saying, ‘Well, as long as that’s under 3 percent,’ you can basically buy as much as you want,” he said. “Let’s limit people on how much they can totally get but give them the option within that range to take a capsule that’s 50 milligrams or five depending on, again, what their condition is.”
MedPharm has also asked legislators to expand the list of conditions for which Iowans may purchase medical marijuana. The current list consists of just nine conditions, including seizures, cancers, Parkinson’s disease and untreatable pain, but Nelson said adding issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and additional definitions of pain to the list would put Iowa on par with other states with legal medical marijuana programs.
5 dispensaries are slotted to open their doors by Dec. 1:
- MedPharm Iowa — 5700 Sunnybrook Drive, Sioux City, IA 51106
- Have A Heart Compassionate Care — 3615 9th Ave., Council Bluffs, IA 51501
- MedPharm Iowa — 7229 Apple Valley Drive, Windsor Heights, IA 50324
- Iowa Cannabis Company — 1955 La Porte Road, Waterloo, IA 50702
- Have A Heart Compassionate Care — 2222 E. 53rd St., Davenport, IA 52807