CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids’ new medical marijuana manufacturer is invested in the business but believes state officials need to address the restrictions crippling the new program.
The state law that limits access to medical marijuana to those with certain chronic conditions still is in its early stages, but officials from Iowa Relief, the new manufacturing facility in Cedar Rapids, said they are “committed” to grow with the program.
“I think with our involvement in the program, it will expand. It’s just going to take time,” said Patrick Doherty, senior operations associate for Acreage Holdings, the New Jersey-based parent company of Iowa Relief.
State lawmakers, city officials and other representatives from Iowa Relief broke ground Thursday on the roughly 5,000-square-foot facility at 1420 26th Ave. Court SW, which is south of Wilson Avenue and west of Jones Park.
It’s set to complete construction and be “ready to initiate operation” by March, Doherty said to The Gazette on Thursday. He did not disclose a cost estimate for the project.
Iowa Relief was awarded a license to manufacture marijuana by the state earlier this year, making it the second company to join the state’s cannabidiol program after legislation expanding an existing program was signed into law by then-Gov. Terry Branstad in May 2017.
The first license went to Des Moines-based MedPharm Iowa.
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The law’s expansion opened the door to Iowa Relief and MedPharm to grow, cultivate and process cannabis crops in-state. Their products are available to patients with such conditions as untreatable pain, cancer and seizures.
To date, 663 Iowans have been issued state registration cards allowing them to buy medical marijuana, which became available Dec. 1, according to the Iowa Office of Medical Cannabidiol.
Iowa Relief has until July 1 to have its products ready to sell in five state-approved dispensaries in Waterloo, Davenport, Windsor Heights, Council Bluffs and Sioux City.
Doherty said the company plans to produce capsules, topical ointments and tinctures.
Iowa Relief will initially employ 10 individuals, six of whom will be directly involved with cultivation and production.
Acreage Holdings, the parent company of Iowa Relief, has licenses for dispensary and manufacturing operations in 17 other states, including California, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. The company was founded in Maine in 2012.
“We are committed to being an operator in every state in the union, and here in Iowa we are committed to bringing the best medical cannabis products to patients across the state to help change lives,” Doherty said.
The company’s five-acre plot in Cedar Rapids allows for expansion, he said.
At this time, Doherty said the company is focused on medical products and does not plan to push for recreational marijuana legalization in Iowa.
“Medical marijuana is here and it’s an industry that’s going to continue to develop and improve across the country and in each state that has a program,” he said. “We want to be part of that.”
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“We want to be an advocate, a voice, an operator that could provide experience and research data to help states and communities expand their program,” he said.
Before the program can become a profitable business, state policymakers must remove certain restrictions, state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Thursday.
That includes expanding access to patients beyond those already approved, establishing more dispensaries statewide as well and removing the cap on the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in products. Currently, it’s capped at 3 percent.
“Patients need help, businesses have invested to help them, so we need to make sure this is a thoughtful, put-together program,” Bolkcom said. “Without those fixes, these companies are going to be in the red for the foreseeable future.”
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