Serious questions linger about the fate of medical marijuana in Iowa as Republican lawmakers find themselves considering an eleventh-hour deal that would expand the program to more patients.
The state’s sole manufacturer of medical cannabis oil worries that, once sales begin in about seven months, many patients will realize treatment would be unaffordable, impractical or unobtainable due to restrictions placed on the fledgling industry. The lack of a robust market, in turn, would jeopardize access for those who still could benefit.
“We’ve provided some false hope,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, an Iowa City Democrat who has backed efforts to expand access to medical marijuana. “There are thousands of Iowans counting on us to deliver.”
Iowa legalized possession of cannabis oil in 2014, but there was no legal means to obtain the substance until a bill approved last year allowed for its manufacture and for five dispensaries— planned for Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Davenport, Waterloo and the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights. The expansion was part of last year’s budget negotiations, and it was one of the final bills following all-night negotiations on the last day of the session.
Last year’s deal capped the amount of THC, the most psychoactive compound in marijuana, at 3 percent for any legal cannabis oil. That limit has been the main target of advocates seeking to further expand medical marijuana in the state.
A lot of people misunderstand how Iowa’s THC cap works, said Lucas Nelson of Des Moines-based Kemin Industries, which is the lead consultant for MedPharm Iowa, the state’s first and currently only cannabis oil manufacturer. Nelson’s uncle, who is the president and CEO of Kemin, is the founder of MedPharm Iowa. Nelson oversees the relationship between the two companies, which share a campus in Des Moines.
The state limits the ratio