DES MOINES — As Iowa’s medical marijuana program this week meets its latest benchmark set by a law outlining its expansion, patients and caregivers can expect more products to become available to them in the future, state manufacturing officials indicate.
Thursday marked the official launch of Iowa Relief, the second state-approved medical marijuana manufacturer, which plans to release a tincture as its first product available to Iowans who rely on the program to relieve chronic medical conditions.
Not only are more products on the horizon from the new facility in Cedar Rapids, but another state medical marijuana manufacturer — MedPharm Iowa of Des Moines — plans to release vapor-based products, the first of its kind under the program.
Iowa Relief will offer the tincture from a line of products called “Botanist,” company officials announced at a public regulatory meeting earlier this month.
“We thought the market was looking for a tincture,” said Patrick Doherty, senior operations associate of Acreage Holdings, the New Jersey-based cannabis startup that owns Iowa Relief.
Called “well-being,” the tincture is a cannabidiol-only blend and excludes any tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis that causes a high in users, according to a presentation at the Iowa Cannabidiol Board meeting.
Officials also announced the company intends to release another formulation in tinctures, but did not specify a date. The second formulation called “ease” does contain THC at a ratio of 1:20 to cannabidiol, or CBD.
Different formulations of CBD to THC are created to treat different medical conditions a cannabis plant can alleviate.
THC offers more painkilling properties while CBD is an anti-inflammatory chemical — meaning a higher concentration of THC would be more appropriate for treating symptoms of terminal illnesses while a CBD-based formula is meant for seizures or Parkinson’s disease.
A growing program
As of Aug. 1, more than 3,000 patients have received registration cards from the state, certifying their medical condition qualifies for medical marijuana treatment, according to the Office of Medical Cannabidiol. More than 500 caregivers also have received a license to purchase products for a loved one.
Among those 3,000 patients is Dexter resident Wendy Shoemaker, 50, who has chronic pain from degenerative disc disease and an injury to her knee in 2012.
She began taking medical cannabis in March as an alternative to her opioid prescription and her quality of life changed drastically, she said.
Shoemaker said five months ago, she barely could stand being on a boat on Diamondhead Lake, where her family lives. Now her family operates a not-for-profit organization called Another Way Sports, which is aimed at helping individuals with disabilities participate in sports like adaptive water skiing.
“My life has started again at age 50,” Shoemaker said. “I will never take this for granted.”
The average age of patients on the program is 56, according to the Office of Medical Cannabidiol.
Conditions that qualify for medical cannabis vary, but the majority of patients in the program — 64%, according to state data — qualify because of untreatable pain. They are followed by cancer patients with severe or chronic pain, who make up 8% of the program.
Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board members recently approved a recommendation to drop “untreatable pain” and instead name “chronic pain” under its list of qualifying conditions. However, members rejected recommendations to add more conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and opioid dependency.
Still, the program has grown since it was first launched in December 2018, with sales approaching $1.34 million, Owen Parker, the cannabidiol board’s program manager, said during this month’s meeting.
On Nov. 30, a day before medical marijuana went on sale for the first time in Iowa, about 650 patients were certified for the program.
Regulatory board members and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds have indicated their hesitancy to further expand the program — with the governor vetoing a bill earlier this year that would have done that, but that she said went too far.
That stance is harmful to patients, said state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, especially to those who take opioids.
“If we had a workable program, they could be taking safer medicines made from cannabis,” Bolkcom said.
Iowa Relief last year was awarded a state contract to grow cannabis and manufacture products using its oil. Under the contract, it must sell its products at five-state approved dispensaries in Davenport, Waterloo, Windsor Heights, Council Bluffs, and Sioux City.
The company experienced a setback earlier this year after construction on its facility was delayed by bad winter weather. Officials broke ground at the Cedar Rapids site at 1420 26th Ave. Court S.W. in December.
Iowa Relief officially began “operations in cultivation” of its cannabis plants May 23, according to the board presentation. A little more than two months later, on July 31, officials began “operations in manufacturing” and the first product samples were sent to the lab.
In its application to the state, Iowa Relief proposed four products for the market: liquid, tincture, capsule, and cream.
Officials announced at the board meeting earlier this month they plan to release a topical under the Botanist line sometime in September. They did not specify when they plan to release others.
MedPharm Iowa, a subsidiary of Kemin Industries, was the first medical cannabis manufacturer awarded a license in Iowa under the state’s expanded program, passed in a 2017 law signed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad.
Earlier this week, MedPharm General Manager Lucas Nelson announced the company would release a line of vaporizer products this week, meant for patients seeking a quick onset of the medication or who otherwise can’t take medication orally.
“You had people with absolute splitting pain that can be brought on in seconds. There wasn’t anything to deal with that” available in the program, Nelson said.
The first vaporizer — available in both a 250-milligram disposable and a 500-milligram cartridge — was offered in a CBD-forward formulation starting Thursday. A THC-forward formulation will be released later this year, Nelson said.