Iowa's first medical cannabis manufacturer prepares to plant

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Iowa's only medical cannabis producer is gearing up for production at its 15,000 square foot facility in Des Moines.

“It will be a state of the art, secure, quality-controlled, manufacturing facility," said Lucas Nelson of Kemin Industries, who helping to oversee the project.

MedPharm Iowa, the state's only authorized cannabis manufacturer, will start growing cannabis plants within the next month or two and plans to be fully operational by the fall of this year, ready to put product on dispensary shelves by the December 1 deadline mandated by Iowa law. The Iowa legislature passed a bill late late session expanding Iowa's cannabis program to include more qualifying medical conditions and to allow the growth, manufacturing and sale of medical cannabis products to sick Iowans who need it.

The warehouse will be transformed into a state-of-the-art facility that will be extremely secure, Nelson told a group of photographers and reporters who were invited Wednesday to take a first look at the building. There will be surveillance video, secure entrances and few who work at the facility will actually touch the plants in effort to maintain crop safety.

The plants will be kept in different rooms for different phases of growth before it is turned into oil.

"This is going to be a new operation so we’re tailoring the grow rooms to have what we believe are going to be the specific growing environments needed for the plants but that’s going to have to be tweaked. We want to maximize as much oil from each plant as we can," said Nick Tebockhorst, an associate for Kemin Industries who is helping consult on plant production.

But MedPharm Iowa is taking an expensive risk. Nelson said 12,000 people would need to register for cards in order to make the operation economically viable but as of March 15 only 316 Iowans have been approved for cards, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data.

He also stressed the legislature needs to make some changes to the law like increasing the allowable THC, levels and expanding the list of medical conditions approved to use cannabis products. A measure to do that is technically dead, but there are other ways for it to be revived before lawmakers adjourn.

Medical cannabis advocates have been critical of the three percent cap on THC and narrow list of qualifying conditions since the bill became law last year.

MedPharm is looking to other states with medical cannabis programs as the company takes off.

“I think we’ve learned a lot from them that we’ll be able to translate right here in these state," Nelson said.

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