Medical cannabidiol patients in Iowa now have only one company’s products to choose from as the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forces the state’s only other licensed CBD manufacturer to shutter its operations.
At the end of March, Have A Heart Compassionate Care announced that it was closing the medical CBD dispensaries it operated in Council Bluffs and Davenport. That was followed by an announcement in early April from New York-based Acreage Holdings that it was temporarily closing several cannabis facilities including its Iowa Relief wholesale plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Kevin Murphy, the chairman and CEO of Acreage, said in a press release at the time that the measures were being taken due to the coronavirus crisis.
“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made the very difficult decision to furlough several of our employees and close certain facilities while we navigate through the crisis,” Murphy said.
“These bold measures will help to ensure that we emerge from this very challenging situation stronger than ever before,” he added.
Although the closure of the 5,000 square foot Iowa Relief facility was originally characterized as temporary, on Monday state officials confirmed that Acreage was relinquishing its license and the plant, which manufactured medical marijuana capsules, topicals, and tinctures, would not reopen.
That leaves MedPharm’s facility in Des Moines as Iowa’s only manufacturer of medical marijuana products. MedPharm also operates medical marijuana dispensaries in Sioux City and Windsor Heights. The state’s only other remaining dispensary, The Iowa Cannabis Company, is located in Waterloo.
Strict Program Limits Patient Access
Under Iowa’s strict medical cannabidiol program, cannabis therapies are limited to topicals, tinctures, and capsules with no more than 3% THC. To participate in the program, patients must have a doctor’s recommendation and be diagnosed with one or more of about a dozen qualifying medical conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or a terminal illness with a life expectancy of one year or less.
Dale Todd, a member of the Cedar Rapids City Council, has a son with a rare form of epilepsy. He told local media that while he is disappointed by the closure of Iowa Relief, the decision is “no surprise” given the nature of the state’s medical cannabidiol program.
“Draconian parameters that were set on the industry’s ability to market and sell medical cannabis resulted in the demise of this business,” Todd said. “The limited market prevented the industry from developing a sustainable business model, and everybody seemed to know that this would be the case. It’s like watching a ship sink slowly.
“Regretfully it’ll be the people in this region who looked at it for the medical benefits it provided that will suffer the most,” he added.
Call For New Applications Rescinded
Just when that suffering will be relieved is up in the air. In April, the Iowa Department of Health’s Office of Medical Cannabidiol issued a request for proposals (RFP) for license applicants to replace the closed dispensaries in Davenport and Council Bluffs. But because of the closure of Iowa Relief and pending legislation that could lower the THC limit for patients, that request was rescinded on Monday. Owen Parker, the Office of Medical Cannabidiol program manager, said that the call for applications would be reissued in a couple of days.
“The previous RFP in some ways, it was an old program,” Parker said. “We want licensees to be familiar with the new program.”
Lucas Nelson, the general manager of Iowa’s sole remaining CBD manufacturer MedPharm, said that the closure of Iowa Relief is another disappointment in a medical cannabis program that has been fraught with challenges.
“We can’t quite seem to get our footing in this program,” he said.