Business

Acreage Holdings freezes wholesale medical marijuana operations in Iowa

Manufacturing facility in southwest Cedar Rapids closed

Construction is shown in June 2019 of the Iowa Relief cannabis cultivation and processing plant in southwest Cedar Rapid
Construction is shown in June 2019 of the Iowa Relief cannabis cultivation and processing plant in southwest Cedar Rapids. The 5,000-square-foot plant opened later in 2019 but has been closed by its owner, Acreage Holdings, because of the coronavirus impact on the medical marijuana business. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Acreage Holdings, which owns medical marijuana manufacturer Iowa Relief, said it will temporarily halt wholesale operations in Iowa, becoming the latest in a string of cannabis-related closures with potential consequences for the state’s fledgling program.

The announcement means the temporary closure of a 5,000-square-foot cannabis cultivation and processing plant in southwest Cedar Rapids, where Iowa Relief produces medical marijuana capsules, topical ointments and tinctures.

New York-based Acreage Holdings announced the cost-cutting measure Friday alongside several others — including temporary closures of dispensary or edibles manufacturing operations in five other states and the furlough of 122 corporate and field operations employees.

“These bold measures will help to ensure that we emerge from this very challenging situation stronger than ever before,” Kevin Murphy, Acreage’s chairman and CEO, said in a news release.

With Iowa Relief’s hiatus, MedPharm is currently the state’s lone manufacturer of medical marijuana products.

Though Murphy said he remains “optimistic” about the U.S. cannabis industry, MedPharm General Manager Lucas Nelson said the temporary halt to Iowa Relief’s operations will further strain Iowa’s medical cannabis program.

Nelson said he believes Acreage’s closures puts its future operations in jeopardy.

If there are no workers, he continued, the company’s marijuana plants will die, likely resulting in a delay before products return to shelves.

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“It’ll be a year or more before the dispensaries are reopened — if there is even an interest in applying for them at this time,” he said in a Tuesday email to The Gazette. “The news about Acreage certainly casts more doubt.”

Acreage Holdings currently does not have a timeframe for reopening its Iowa Relief facility, said Howard Schacter, the company’s vice president of communications, in a Thursday email.

“Any remaining product will be safe-guarded in accordance with the Iowa Relief (standard operating procedures), which have been approved by the Office of Medical Cannabidiol,” he said.

MedPharm’s dispensaries likely will not be able to provide Acreage products after its current stock runs out, Nelson said.

In addition, the Beyond Iowa Relief, Have a Heart Compassionate Care dispensaries closed suddenly last week in Council Bluffs and Davenport, after Have a Heart Iowa determined it was no longer financially feasible to operate, the Quad-City Times reported.

The company did not specifically mention the growing impact of the coronavirus on the U.S. and world economy as a factor behind the closures.

“Both of these closings reinforce the same points I’ve been making for years now — this program (in Iowa) is not sustainable as currently constructed,” Nelson said in his email. “I fear these moves cast doubt on its future from the patient perspective, which may result in lower (registration) card numbers — something that puts our future at risk as well.”

With the closures, Iowa now has three licensed medical marijuana dispensaries — MedPharm’s sites in Sioux City and Windsor Heights and Iowa Cannabis Co.’s operation in Waterloo.

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In another development, Acreage Holdings also terminated a $120 million merger agreement with Nevada cannabis operator Deep Roots Medical, after the coronavirus moratoriums kept the two parties from closing on the deal by their agreed-upon deadline.

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