Medical marijuana firm sues to keep application secret

MedPharm Iowa seeks injunction to guard its trade secrets

MedPharm Iowa is planning to offer medical cannabis products in Iowa, including an oil dispenser (left) and a transdermal cream applicator (right). The medical marijuana manufacturer is suing the state in an attempt to prevent parts of its application to dispense the drug from being made public. (Erin Jordan/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A Des Moines company licensed last month to be Iowa’s first medical marijuana manufacturer is suing the state to keep confidential its full application.

MedPharm Iowa is citing a trade secrets’ exemption to Iowa’s Public Records law despite being the only company that applied to grow and produce medical cannabis products.

“The disclosure of the requested information would result in the complete destruction of the trade secrets contained therein,” Allison Kerndt, MedPharm Iowa’s attorney, wrote in an injunction request filed Thursday in Polk County. “Such a disclosure will cause immediate, substantial, and irreparable harm to MedPharm Iowa, for which no legal remedy is adequate.”

The petition is in response to a Dec. 18 request Doug Glendenning sent to the Iowa Department of Public Health for MedPharm’s “full 465-page application in a PDF, without any censoring added.”

The state health department provided The Gazette on Dec. 8 a redacted version of MedPharm’s license application, which said MedPharm plans to grow 96 marijuana plants in 400 square feet of space rented from Kemin Industries in Des Moines. The document also outlines MedPharm’s growing schedule and product pricing.

Some of the blacked-out portions of the application seem to concern security and building and equipment specifications.

“The requested information contains confidential and proprietary details regarding MedPharm Iowa’s security of its manufacturing facility and other operating procedures that provide MedPharm Iowa with a competitive advantage in the marketplace, and ensure the safety and integrity of its products,” the lawsuit states.

Food vendor Sysco used a trade secrets argument in 2014 when the company said its contract with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics should not be released to The Gazette. Although 6th Judicial District Judge Chad Kepros agreed with the newspaper, he was overruled in 2016 by the Iowa Court of Appeals.

It’s unclear what Glendenning’s interest is in MedPharm’s application, but anyone may file Open Records requests under Iowa Code Chapter 22.

Earlier this year, the state health department received nine letters from entities interested in manufacturing medical cannabis, but MedPharm was the only one to submit a formal application. The health department is allowed by law to license one additional manufacturer and has said it may do so early this year. Up to five dispensaries are expected to be licensed this spring.