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Iowa Relief breaks ground on its medical cannabis facility in Cedar Rapids

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Cannibidiol (or CBD, here in oil form) has been shown to benefit patients with epilepsy, PTSD, ALS, MS, cancer and other conditions. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Iowa Relief held a groundbreaking ceremony for its cannabis cultivation and processing plant in Cedar Rapids on Thursday. It will be the second facility in the state to produce cannabidiol for patients enrolled in the Iowa’s limited medical marijuana program.

The Iowa legislature legalized the use of cannabidiol to treat certain medical conditions in 2014, but didn’t approve either production or sale of the oil derived from cannabis until three years later. The Iowa Department of Public Health (DPH), which administers the program, has since issued licenses to produce cannabidiol to two companies — MedPharm and Iowa Relief — and approved five dispensaries around the state.

MedPharm opened its production facility in Des Moines last month, and the dispensaries opened earlier this month.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony in southwest Cedar Rapids, Patrick Doherty, senior operations associate for Iowa Relief’s parent company, said plans call for the almost 5,000 square foot facility to produce capsules, topical ointments and tinctures.

“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 told The Gazette.

Although Doherty described Acreage Holdings, Iowa Relief’s parent company, as “an advocate, a voice, an operator that could provide experience and research data to help states and communities expand their program,” he said the company has no plans to advocate for legalizing recreational marijuana in Iowa.

Acreage was founded in 2014 as High Street Capital, and has dispensaries or production facilities in 18 states. Originally the company was a passive investor in legal cannabis enterprises. Last year it changed strategies and became the active operator of the cannabis businesses it owns.

On Dec. 6, Acreage announced a deal to purchase Form Factory, an Oregon-based manufacturer and distributor of cannabis-based edibles and beverages.

“With this acquisition, we are now positioned to be both the first and only national cannabis CPG [consumer packaged goods] company and distribution platform in the U.S. cannabis industry,” Acreage CEO Kevin Murphy said in a press release. “The combination of the largest U.S. operational footprint, combined with the unique food and beverage manufacturing capabilities of Form Factory sets us on a direct path to become the Procter & Gamble of cannabis.”

Of course, none of those Form Factory items will be available in Iowa. Doherty acknowledged that Iowa has the most restrictive laws of any the 18 states Acreage operates in.

Iowa’s medical marijuana program has sharp limits on the only product it offers — cannabinol — and who can access it. The governing body set up by the legislature, the Iowa Medical Cannibidiol Advisory Board, has been widely criticized for refusing to recommend changes to the program.

Iowa put greater restrictions on who can qualify for a registration card than almost any other state with a similar program. A doctor must certify a patient has one of the following “debilitating medical conditions”:

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• Cancer (with severe or chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, cachexia or severe wasting);

• Multiple sclerosis with severe and persistent muscle spasms;

• Seizures;

• AIDS or HIV (as defined in Iowa Code, section 141A.1);

• Crohn’s disease;

• Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS);

• Any terminal illness, with a probable life expectancy of under one year (if the illness or its treatment produces one or more of the following: severe or chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting; cachexia or severe wasting);

• Parkinson’s disease; and

• Untreatable pain

And even if a patient qualifies, the cannabidiol available through the program may not be of much help. State law limits the amount of THC in the oil to three percent, which minimizes the cannabidiol’s effectiveness. No state sets a lower THC limit than Iowa.

A proposal in the Iowa legislature to eliminate the THC cap died during the last session, when the Republican-led Senate refused to consider the bill.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom, who led the fight in the legislature to create the medical cannabis program, attended Thursday’s ceremony. He’s a strong advocate for increasing access to the program and lifting the THC cap.

“There is just no reason for people to suffer in this state when they can have access to medicine that can help, and I hope we can work in a bipartisan way to fix the law,” the Iowa City Democrat said.

The Iowa Relief production facility is scheduled to open in March. It will initially employ 10 people, according to Doherty.


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