Iowa's only medical cannabis manufacturer is open, ready to sell products in December

MedPharm Iowa, the state's only manufacturer of medical cannabis, has its grand opening in Des Moines Thursday. (Photo: Caroline Cummings).

MedPharm Iowa, the state's only medical cannabis manufacturer, officially opened Thursday, as it gears up to put products on statewide dispensary shelves next month.

The Des Moines-based facility is licensed to grow and manufacture medical cannabis oil products under a 2017 Iowa law allowing for this and the sale of products to critically ill patients who suffer from a selection of qualifying illnesses like epilepsy, Crohn's and cancer.

The products include capsules, creams and tinctures---solution-based products--all with varying levels of CBD and THC, the two parts of the plant that benefit sick patients. Those products will be available at five dispensaries statewide starting December 1.

“It’s incredible to finally be here standing in a room where there’s plants growing and knowing my son’s life is only going to improve," said Erin Bollman, a Dallas Center resident who came for the grand opening ceremony Thursday. She was joined by other advocates, patients and lawmakers who worked hard to see Iowa's medical cannabis law expand during the 2017 session.

"[Today] has been one of the best days of my life," said Bollman, who has a six-year-old son with a rare disease that has given him conditions like Autism, ADHD and epilepsy. A 2014 medical cannabis law allowed parents of children with epilepsy to legally treat their children with cannabis oils.

Her son, Abe, has been seizure-free as a result, but she has faced hurdles in getting what she calls life-saving medicine for her child.

“In order to get it, I had to drive to Colorado and risk federal prosecution driving it across state lines," Bollman said.

Now, with the opening of MedPharm and five dispensaries across the state, that's about to change.

State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expanded the 2014 law in 2017 to allow the growth, manufacturing and sale of medical cannabis products in Iowa. MedPharm Iowa, owned by Kemin industries, is the only company that obtained a license from the Iowa Department of Public Health to develop these products, and they've invested millions into the project.

“I think we’ve made an amazing step forward. We have this state-of-the-art facility making medicine today," said Senator Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who has long advocated for medical marijuana access in Iowa. He and others note they'd like to see the law expand even further to allow more qualifying conditions and lift a cap on THC, which advocates say is essential to ensure patients can leverage the treatment they need.

Lucas Nelson, MedPharm Iowa's operations manager, fought for this alongside Bolkcom and others during the 2018 legislative session to no avail. But he hopes that will soon change.

“We’ll be right up there at the legislature this year fighting for it again," Nelson said.

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