CEDAR RAPIDS — As of this month, 10 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and 33 states of legalized medical marijuana.
Iowa — not one of those states — recently expanded its strict cannabidiol program to more Iowans in December.
As more conversations about cannabis occur across the state, public interest in cannabis products — such as oils, tinctures, creams — grows.
And businesses owners have risen up to meet the demand, offering products at existing storefronts and opening up brick-and-mortar locations across Eastern Iowa.
Demand is enough for small Iowan-based chain Your CBD Store that owners have opened five locations since September.
“We’ve had more than 2,500 transactions since Sept. 1,” said Becky Ramker, co-owner of Your CBD Store chain. “People are seeing how good it works for them.”
Ramker has opened two stores in Davenport, one in Moline, Ill, another in Iowa City and a fifth most recently in Cedar Rapids, which opened this week at 5466 Blairs Forest Way NE.
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They join a number of businesses in the Corridor, including the Corner Store Apothecary and More in Cedar Rapids, which is making its second year in February. Owner Kymm Loeffler said it recently acquired the space next to the storefront, and plans to open a “wholistic healing center” that offers massages and other similar services.
“The public support is there,” Loeffler said.
Despite the growing number of these businesses, however, these businesses still operate in a gray area — technically, these products are illegal in Iowa without a license.
“Iowans who dispense, sell, possess or use such products are not protected from criminal prosecution as the protections from criminal prosecution contained in (Iowa Code) chapter 124E do not extend to the dispensing, possession or use of these types of CBD products,” states a memo from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Medical marijuana is legal in the state of Iowa, but only for those who obtain a registration card certifying they have one of the approved medical conditions, which includes seizures, untreatable pain and ALS, among other situations.
Two state-approved companies produce and dispense cannabidiol products at five licensed dispensaries statewide.
Beyond that, under current state law, officials are not authorized to regulate the sale or use of other cannabis products — meaning the content, quality and safety of these products has not been regulated under a federal or state agency.
But for businesses, the opportunity to help people outweighs potential criminal prosecution.
“I think we’re going to get way more good out of it than we would any kind of negative,” said Joe Scholz, manager of Your CBD Store locations in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive chemical that some research suggests has healing properties. CBD products can be used to help individuals sleep, lessen chronic pain, help treat anxiety and depression, among other issues.
CBD can come from two different cannabis plants — hemp and marijuana. Hemp has less than 0.3 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that can cause a high in individuals.
Marijuana has more THC, so CBD products tend to be derived from hemp.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only one cannabidiol product, called Epidiolex, used to treat seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.
The 2018 Farm Bill, signed by President Donald Trump in December, fully legalized hemp production with less than 0.3 percent THC, overriding a long-standing policy defining it as a controlled substance.
For some of its customers, the possibility these products can offer is too good to pass up on.
Davenport resident Mike Havenhill, 63, suffered a work-related injury in 1999 that caused permanent nerve damage. A former auto technician, Havenhill was working under a vehicle when something popped in his neck, which has resulted in chronic headaches — something from which he said he’s never had total relief.
Havenhill said he previously relied on fentanyl patches and as much as 240mg of opioid prescription a day to deal with the symptoms — but the medication made him listless.
“I’m never going to be rid of anything because of permanent nerve damage, but I’m always looking (for relief),” he said.
When CBD products first were suggested to Havenhill, he was hesitant. He’s never tried similar products before and been opposed to marijuana as a principle in the past.
But about four months ago, Havenhill decided to try a CBD cream from Your CBD Store in Davenport, and found some relief from his pain.
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“I’m trying to make improvement on myself, even though I push myself a lot, I’m finding I can push myself a little harder to make those improvements,” he said.
Some, such as Scholtz, are opposed to more regulations on cannabidiol programs, but others such as Loeffler welcomes state oversight.
“I would love to see that regulated,” she said. “There are so many people in need of this, and CBD shops are popping up all over the place.”
Loeffler said without regulation the risk of stores selling “snake oil,” or products claiming to be one thing but actually another, only increases.
“Anyone can start slapping labels on oils and have no regulation. You have to careful with that,” Loeffler said.
Patients such as Havenhill, however, hope to see continued expansion of the business.
“If people have pain, they need to throw the hitch in their giddy up in the garage and get out and try this,” he said.
“For some, this just doesn’t work. But for the majority of people, this would work well.”
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