Iowa’s expanded medical marijuana program launched at the end of last year, putting Iowa on a path dozens of other states have followed in recent years.
A 2017 law authorized the manufacture of cannabidiol products within state lines and allowed for an expanded number of Iowas with qualifying health conditions to use medical marijuana as a treatment option.
MedPharm Iowa of Des Moines was the first manufacturer awarded a state license. Its products went on sale for the first time Dec. 1 at five certified dispensaries in Davenport, Waterloo, Windsor Heights, Council Bluffs and Sioux City.
A second manufacturer, Iowa Relief, has broken ground on a facility in Cedar Rapids. The project is scheduled to be completed sometime this spring, officials said.
WHAT’s HAPPENED SINCE
Iowa has seen a spike in the number of Iowans approved to use medical marijuana products by the Iowa Office of Medical Cannabidiol.
In November, the month before the products went on sale, 200 Iowans received state registration cards, which allows individuals to purchase products.
By December, more than 380 individuals were approved for registration cards.
According to the Office of Medical Cannabidiol, as of March 25, there are 2,170 patients and caregivers with active registration cards. About 57 percent of the total patients approved for use are seeking relief for untreatable pain.
As of March 25, more than 600 health care providers have certified patients’ qualified condition, a requirement to obtain the products.
MedPharm officials say the first four months of Iowa’s expanded medical marijuana program has been “all over the place in good and challenging ways.”
Lucas Nelson, general manager of outsourcing services for Kemin Industries, MedPharm Iowa’s lead consultant, said the Windsor Heights dispensary — which is operated by MedPharm — has seen success with dozens of patients in the past few months.
“We’ve got some really, really cool stories,” Nelson said. Employees have seen “people who are able to participate in activities with their grandkids or are able to participate at church — things that were out of the question (before). They knew they couldn’t do it and now have been able to.”
But at the same time, Nelson said, they still struggle finding the right dosage for some conditions — especially those with ALS or Crohn’s disease — since current restrictions on products don’t meet every patient’s need.
“Not having a product type that can deliver relief within minutes was leaving them out in the dark,” Nelson said.
Vaporization was approved by regulators earlier this year, and is set to go into effect in May.
However, since cannabidiol products are limited to 3 percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, Nelson said “it’s basically impossible to formulate something with any sort of effective dose of THC.”
MedPharm officials hope to see that cap removed in this year’s legislative session.
“We’re currently working on a couple new formulations with the new changes that are possible in the bills that would really give us opportunity to formulate exactly what our patients are going to need,” Nelson said.
A bill seeking to expand Iowa’s medical marijuana program remains in negotiations in the Iowa Legislature, but lawmakers disagree on whether to raise the THC cap and whether to add other medical conditions that would qualify.
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