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Cedar Rapids Officials Hoping For Medical Marijuana Manufacturing Center

The city of Cedar Rapids is still hoping to land a medical marijuana production center. That’s after state regulators passed over Iowa's second-largest city for a dispensary earlier this year. 

Iowa officials are currently reviewing four applications for the state’s second and last medical marijuana manufacturing license. One in-state company and three out-of-state companies are competing for the rights.

It’s still not clear where in Iowa the center will go. But Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart is hopeful it’ll be in his city, which he said is strategically located near major highway routes and supports a diverse economy and workforce.

"We have really a very strong work ethic here. We have lots of different businesses. So people come here, they bring families...” Hart said.

One potential manufacturer said a production facility could bring 20 new jobs to the city in its first year. And Hart said Cedar Rapids has the phsycial and economic infrastructure to support what is a fledgling industry in the state.

“The ability for a community to handle the needs of a manufacturing facility, and for the manufacturing facility to have transportation easily available," Hart said. "We provide all that here.”

But the city lost out on a medical marijuana dispensary site earlier this year, when state regulators awarded five licenses for businesses to set up shop in Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Waterloo, Davenport and Windsor Heights. Hart said it's anyone's guess what decision the state will make.

"I don't have enough information to put any kinds of odds on it," he said. "It's really just a guess."

In an email sent Friday afternoon, Cedar Rapids City Council Member Dale Todd came to the same conclusion.

"Our hope is that the evidence would support the location of an operation in Cedar Rapids but no one knows.  If they tell you they do they are smoking weed," Todd's email read.

Todd has been an outspoken proponent for medical marijuana use and is advocating for state lawmakers to expand access to the drug for more patients.

"Without strong legislation that supported expanding the marketplace to some of the other conditions it is going to make it incrediably tough for anyone to make it.  Almost like manifest destiny - setting them up to fail," Todd wrote in an email.

Patient advocates and some industry groups have said Iowa's regulations could undermine the growth of the industry.

Under current law, access is limited to patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures, AIDS or HIV, Crohn's disease, ALS, any terminal illness with a limited life expectancy, Parkinson's disease, or untreatable pain. Primary caregivers can also apply for licenses to dispense the drug to qualified patients. Some states allow access to patients suffering from sickle cell disease or post-traumatic stress disorder. Others don't set any limits based on medical conditions.

Attempts to loosen restrictions on the drug in Iowa didn't make it through this year's legislative session. 

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter