Health

Mixed reviews greet medical marijuana sellers in Iowa

Cedar Rapids and Coralville endorse them; Council Bluffs doesn't

MedPharm Iowa proposes several medical cannabis products, including an oil dispenser (left) and a transdermal cream applicator (right) that would dispense 2.25 milliliters of prescription cannabis cream per click. The cream could be applied topically for joint pain, explained Tom Swegle, CEO of MedCara Pharmaceuticals, of Conrad, which is working with MedPharm.
MedPharm Iowa proposes several medical cannabis products, including an oil dispenser (left) and a transdermal cream applicator (right) that would dispense 2.25 milliliters of prescription cannabis cream per click. The cream could be applied topically for joint pain, explained Tom Swegle, CEO of MedCara Pharmaceuticals, of Conrad, which is working with MedPharm.

Companies hoping to get into the business of dispensing medical marijuana products to qualifying Iowans who suffer from chronic illnesses are asking local politicians for support and finding warm embraces — or the cold shoulder.

In Cedar Rapids, Mayor Brad Hart this week wrote a full-throated endorsement for MedPharm Iowa, which hopes to get the state’s blessing to open a dispensary in the city.

“We are the second largest city in Iowa. Clearly we are a medical hub. It just made sense, if it’s legal, and we are going to have dispensaries around the state, it made sense we’d have one here for the benefit of people in Cedar Rapids and our area,” Hart said. “Seems like a no brainer.”

In Coralville, Mayor John Lundell wrote in favor of both MedPharm and applicant Iowa Cannabis Company.

“Why wouldn’t we want to serve people that have loved ones with those conditions?” he asked.

But across the interstate in Council Bluffs, Mayor Matt Walsh rebuffed a request for support from applicant C & G Management.

“I told them ‘no,’ but I also told them that I would not forward a letter of support for any other firm” that expressed interest in opening a medical marijuana dispensary in the city, he told the World-Herald News Service.

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In its run up to widely expanding Iowa’s restrictive medical marijuana program by next year, the Iowa Public Health Department earlier approved MedPharm of Des Moines to be licensed as the manufacturer of medical cannabis products. Next it will license by April 1 up to five dispensaries across the state to sell the products to Iowan who qualify.

The moves are in accordance with a measure adopted last year by the Iowa Legislature that expanded Iowa’s medical marijuana program to include making and selling cannabis products in the state, and greatly increasing the number of illnesses that qualify for a registration card. Right now, few Iowans hold registration cards — about 300 — but officials expect that to swell as sales begin in 2019.

By a Thursday deadline, seven entities applied to operate 21 dispensary locations in the state — four each in Davenport and Sioux City, three each in Council Bluffs and Des Moines, and one each for Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Coralville, Iowa City, Urbandale, Waterloo and Windsor Heights.

In addition to being the state’s only licensed manufacturer. MedPharm has told local officials it wants to open several dispensary locations as well. Earlier this week, the Sioux City Council voted 4-1 to express its support for those — including MedPharm — that want to open there.

So far in the process, state officials are not disclosing the identities of entities that have applied for licenses. But as those entities reach out to community officials for support, their names are being discovered.

Records show that Iowa Cannabis Company was incorporated in the state last month by a young Spokane, Wash., marijuana entrepreneur named Tate Kapple.

A trade magazine, Marijuana Venture, wrote in a profile that Kapple is owner of Cannabis & Glass, a seller of recreational marijuana. In the state of Washington, marijuana is legal for recreational — not only medical — uses.

The profile reported that Cannabis & Glass had expanded to three locations in Washington, hired its 40th employee and expected to make $15 million in annual sales.

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Its medical marijuana entity in Iowa asked Iowa City for a letter of recommendation, but the request came too late, according to City Manager Geoff Fruin.

He said the city first received a request from Iowa Cannabis Company to make sure its preferred location of 32 Sturgis Corner Drive was zoned properly.

But a request for a letter of support from the city, however, did not come in time for the City Council to meet and discuss it before the applications were due just hours later, Fruin said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

B.A. Morelli of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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