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Medical Marijuana Now Sold To Patients In Iowa

Katie Peikes/IPR
William Rose, who is a caregiver for his son Christian, chooses and pays for a product at MedPharm Sioux City.

Iowa’s long awaited medical cannabis program began Saturday, as people with certain medical conditions were able to buy medical marijuana at five dispensaries in the state.

MedPharm Dispensary Manager Stephen Wilson talked with William Rose and his son Christian as they made one of the first purchases of medical cannabidiol in Sioux City. The products come in a variety of forms including capsules, creams and tinctures. They chose tinctures, which are drops that go under the tongue.

“So four drops is going to be 10 milligrams, so essentially eight drops is going to be that 20 milligram sweet spot,” Wilson told them, recommending the tincture drops be taken three times a day.

Christian is 13 years old. His father and caregiver, William, says they’ve had a registration card for two years to get a similar product in Colorado for Christian’s seizures, and the drops have helped.

“It stopped them. Entirely. As far as we know. And he’s off that seizure medicine. They helped control his seizures but it was not good for his body,” William Rose said.

He said it’s even helped Christian’s autism and ADHD.

“He can’t get high from it,” William said “Once he takes it, he doesn’t feel any different. He calms down. A lot of people think you get the munchies, but he has no effects like that.”

With medical cannabidiol available in Sioux City, the Rose family no longer needs to drive to Colorado to get it. Iowa law enacted in 2014 allowed people to have medical cannabidiol to treat epilepsy, before the state enacted a new law in 2017 to establish a medical cannabidiol program. But it’s still federally illegal. William said Iowa officials told him if his family got pulled over, they would have to show their registration card and they would “be fine” as long as they were carrying the amount they can have in Iowa. He said it was scary when his family had to cross state lines with the product.

“We had to get out a stack of cash, cross through Nebraska and supposedly we’d be okay with our card as long as we followed Iowa’s law,” he said. “…You know, for a kid, it was kind of terrifying.”

Christian used up his last drops of his Colorado supply the morning the Sioux City dispensary opened. His father said the opening came at a good time.

Besides the father and son, only a few others were on hand in Sioux City to purchase cannabidiol products, while MedPharm reported at least 25 people were lined up outside of its dispensary in suburban Des Moines before that location opened at 8 a.m.

According to data from Iowa’s Department of Public Health, 17 patients and caregivers in northwest Iowa’s Woodbury county have been issued the registration cards they need to be able to purchase medical cannabis. In Polk County, 104 people have been issued cards. In eastern Iowa's Scott County, where Have a Heart Compassion Care runs the Davenport dispensary, 22 people have been issued cards.

MedPharm’s Stephen Wilson said he suspects there is a lot of anxiety among physicians in western Iowa to certify patients for medical cannabis.

“We understand that, but it’s important for them to know that they aren’t prescribing medical cannabis,” Wilson said. “All they’re doing is certifying that [patients] have a qualifying condition.”

Some of those qualifying conditions include cancer, untreatable pain, Crohn's disease and seizures.

In order for people to apply for the program, they have to be certified by a physician. Then, they need a registration card to be able to purchase medical cannabidiol.

Across Iowa, 1,466 patients and caregivers have state-approved cards that allow them to purchase products at Iowa's five dispensaries. Close to 400 more people have been approved for the program, but have not yet been issued their cards.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.