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Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Open In Iowa Saturday

Katie Peikes/IPR
MedPharm's Sioux City location.

Five dispensaries across Iowa will begin distributing medical cannabis products for approved patients on Saturday.
MedPharm Iowa, the state’s only licensed medical marijuana manufacturer, will start selling medical cannabis products in the form of capsules, creams and tinctures (drops that go under the tongue) in Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Waterloo and Windsor Heights, a suburb of Des Moines. The company itself runs the dispensaries in Sioux City and Windsor Heights.

Only patients with certain medical conditions, including cancer, seizures and Crohn’s disease, qualify for the program, and they need approval from their physician to be able to apply for a registration card with the state.

Stephen Wilson, who manages the dispensaries in Windsor Heights and Sioux City for Medpharm, called the upcoming opening day “monumental.”

“I think a lot of people have been waiting a very long time to have these products and to be able to treat their symptoms and improve their quality of life more than anything,” Wilson said.

So far, the state’s Department of Transportation has issued 1,466 registration cards for the program. More than 350 applicants have been approved and still need to get cards. Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter says the numbers are lower than expected, but she anticipates they will grow.

“If people are sitting back waiting until dispensaries are open, that kind of makes sense because those registration cards have purchasing power starting on Saturday,” Reisetter said. 

The cards cost $100 and have to be renewed annually. Medicaid patients or those receiving disability payments who provide proof of their status to the Department of Public Health can obtain one for a reduced fee of $25.

The legislature passed a bill in 2017 allowing a type of medical cannabis called medical cannabidiol to be manufactured and distributed in the state. Jason Karimi, the executive director for Iowa Patients for Medical Marijuana, said though it’s a victory “that we are no longer debating or trying to determine whether marijuana is medicine”, the program is “highly restrictive.”

Karimi points to state law that says medical marijuana cannot have more than 3 percent THC. This chemical compound makes people feel high.

“It should be 100 percent THC,” he said. “There should be no restrictions. The reason being it should be just like with any other medication. It should be up to the doctors as to what the safety is and to what level you can prescribe or recommend.”

He continued, “The patients need the most effective medicine they can [get].”

Medpharm’s General Manager Lucas Nelson said the THC cap is one of the biggest issues in the program as the dispensaries open.

“It does not allow us to formulate all of the products that we would otherwise be able to,” Nelson said. “It also, and probably most importantly, requires patients to take more capsules than they otherwise need to.”

Nelson says he plans to bring the THC cap as well as other restrictions up during next year's legislative session, to make the program more inclusive. 

“There’s a lot of restrictions which means there’s going to be a lot people who simply are blocked out of this, whether that’s because their condition doesn’t qualify or because they simply can’t afford it or maybe they don’t have access to a caregiver, to a car and they can’t get there,” Nelson said.

MedPharm says patients who visit the dispensaries to get products will need to bring their state-issued medical cannabis card as well as their driver’s license or government-issued ID.