Health

Deadline looms for Cedar Rapids' medical marijuana manufacturer Iowa Relief

City grants temporary permit to use new facility while work continues

Construction continues Wednesday on the facility for medical marijuana manufacturer Iowa Relief. The nearly 5,000-square-foot facility in southwest Cedar Rapids is planned to produce capsules, topical ointments and tinctures by Aug, 15. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Construction continues Wednesday on the facility for medical marijuana manufacturer Iowa Relief. The nearly 5,000-square-foot facility in southwest Cedar Rapids is planned to produce capsules, topical ointments and tinctures by Aug, 15. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — With a temporary permit to occupy its new building as work at the site continues, a Cedar Rapids medical marijuana manufacturer is on track to join the state’s program in two months, officials indicate.

Nearly a year ago, Iowa Relief — subsidiary of New Jersey-based cannabis startup company Acreage Holdings — received state approval to grow marijuana and formulate products from its oil in Cedar Rapids, expanding the use of medical marijuana for sick and debilitated individuals in Iowa.

When it’s up and running, Iowa Relief will become the second licensed medical marijuana manufacturer in Iowa.

Iowa Relief is scheduled to have its products available in five dispensaries across Iowa by Aug. 15. That is an ­extension, granted by the Iowa Department of Public Health in May, of the July 1 launch originally envisioned by the state.

Harsh winter temperatures and other weather-related complications put construction of the manufacturing facility behind schedule. But the company is confident it will meet the August deadline, Acreage Holdings Senior Operations Associate Patrick Doherty said in May.

Since that announcement, Acreage Holdings has not responded to several requests for interviews with The Gazette.

Estes Construction, the Davenport-based construction manager and general contractor involved in the project, also did not return calls.

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If there were further delay, it could result in action by the Health Department. But public officials do not anticipate “any impacts to the program based on Iowa Relief’s slight delay in product availability,” according to an emailed statement to The Gazette.

As of the end of May, more than 2,600 Iowans are active patients of the program, according to Health Department.

At the same time, Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed House File 732, which sought to expand the program by removing a cap on the potency of products and instead placing limits on the amount of medical cannabis that could be prescribed.

The city of Cedar Rapids supported Iowa Relief’s move to the city, helping with the company’s application to receive a manufacturing license from the state.

In a redacted version of the application obtained by The Gazette, Acreage Holdings said it would begin work almost immediately after awarded the license in mid-2018, hiring staff and proceeding with construction. The first phase of its building, labeled as two grow rooms, was to be “operational and ready for production” by Dec. 18, 2018.

Officials didn’t break ground on the facility — at 1420 26th Ave. Court SW — until Dec. 13.

State officials said Iowa Relief was constructing a “modular facility” off-site. In a statement this month, the Health Department said several modules “have arrived and are being connected to utilities.”

The city recently awarded Iowa Relief a certificate of temporary occupancy, meaning the company may use the building as intended, said Kevin Ciabatti, the city’s director of building services.

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Ciabatti said granting temporary occupancy is “not unusual” and allows builders time to complete unfinished external work while using the facility.

To obtain a permanent certificate of occupancy, Iowa Relief has until the end of November to complete the remaining work, including a driveway, parking lot and landscaping.

Cedar Rapids Fire Marshal Vance McKinnon said the facility passed a May 8 fire inspection.

Iowa Relief’s application states it could hire at least eight full-time employees in the first year and at least 15 full-time employees by the third year. Because the company has not responded to The Gazette, the status of its staffing is unknown.

MedPharm Iowa was the first company to obtain a manufacturing license, in November 2017, and had its products on sale in the five state-certified dispensaries by December 2018.

MedPharm General Manager Lucas Nelson said work had to begin almost immediately to meet the deadline — steps that included renovating a building, developing formulations, and testing products.

“We knew making pharmaceutical grade products was going to take an incredible amount of work and a long time to do so,” he said. “We very much needed all parts of that year.”

MedPharm is a competing manufacturer, but also plans to purchase Iowa Relief products for the Des Moines dispensary it operates.

The first harvest at Iowa Relief was scheduled to take place by early June, the company’s application states.

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Cannabis plants can be harvested at any point, but that ultimately affects yield. To meet market demands, Nelson said MedPharm typically grows its plants between 15 and 20 weeks.

Acreage Holdings has operations in 16 states including Iowa, according to its website. As an affiliate of a multistate operator, Iowa Relief “has access to accumulated resources that stand-alone businesses may not,” its application said.

“This expertise covers every aspect of the supply chain, from growing and harvesting, to processing and extraction, to sales, marketing and security,” it continued.

A company like it with a national affiliation has an advantage, Nelson said, but the process to join a new medical marijuana program like Iowa’s is work intensive.

For MedPharm, “it didn’t happen overnight,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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