Chart: Significant challenges await Iowa’s new medical cannabis program

The financial viability of Iowa’s newly launched medical marijuana program may be in question due to:

  • High licensing fees.
  • A restrictive list of qualifying conditions.
  • Limited buy-in from patients and physicians.
  • Widespread confusion about product availability.

While Iowa is considered by many to be a CBD-only state, the launch of MMJ sales through licensed dispensaries last week included products high in THC.

The confusion comes from the naming conventions and language used by Iowa regulators when drafting the state’s MMJ bill.

The title of the law is the Medical Cannabidiol Act – implemented by the state’s Office of Medical Cannabidiol – and limits products to 3% THC.

However, since smokable flower is prohibited in Iowa – patients can purchase only products like capsules, tinctures and topicals – the 3% THC limit applies to the final weight of the end product, not the THC content in the plant itself.

For example, a capsule that weighs 600 milligrams can contain up to 20 milligrams of THC – 3% of the total weight of the capsule.

That confusion may have suppressed patient counts in the state, which have yet to crack the 1,000 mark.

And while Iowa’s program is in its infancy, a major uptick in the number of patients is needed for businesses to break into the black.

“We have limited to no chance of surviving long term as the program is currently constructed,” said Lucas Nelson, general manager of MedPharm Iowa. “By the end of 2019, we need 12,000 patients in the program to make it viable for the long term.”

However, some key barriers may prevent patients from enrolling in Iowa’s MMJ program:

  • Iowa has a tightly controlled list of qualifying conditions that does not include major drivers of MMJ patient counts in other states, such as chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Only five dispensaries are allowed in the state, which may limit access and prevent prospective patients and doctors from learning about the program.
  • Iowa does not allow flower or vaporizable product. Allowable forms include oral (e.g., capsules and tinctures), topical (e.g., lotions and transdermal patches), suppositories and products that can be nebulized.

Furthermore, Iowa’s low patient count stands in contrast to the state’s steep licensing fees, which are some of the highest in the nation.

Over five years, a dispensary in Iowa would be subject to $375,000 in licensing fees, nearly three times that of a dispensary in Illinois – a much larger state that has approximately 50,000 MMJ patients.

It’s easy to draw parallels to a state such as Minnesota, which has another MMJ program with a limited product selection, few dispensaries, high annual fees and relatively low patient counts. Businesses there have struggled mightily and chalked up millions of dollars in losses.

Though Nelson admits Iowa’s MMJ program has significant challenges ahead, he believes it will improve.

“I think they’ve got a great shot to make a lot of corrections to the program outside the 3% THC cap – adding conditions, adding methods of ingestion and getting more providers that are able to certify patients,” he said.

Eli McVey can be reached at [email protected]

Maggie Cowee can be reached at [email protected]

6 comments on “Chart: Significant challenges await Iowa’s new medical cannabis program
  1. Bob on

    It’s because of the likes of Grassley and other uninformed politicians that we will lose great opportunities in the legal market for mmj. Time for new blood in the senate!

    • P. Marie on

      I’ve written and received a reply from Senator Grassley regarding legalization of mmj on the federal level. His reply shows his ignorance as cited beliefs that I recall from back in the 70’s when is was in high school. He needs to retire.

  2. Connie norgart on

    The biggest hurdle is the lack of physicians that can’t or won’t help their patients. Many of the clinics refuse their physicians participating due to the kickbacks or investments in the narcotic trade.

  3. Stephenie Meek on

    Hello, I have my card and have been purchasing products and can tell you that a definite variety and increase in the thc is a must.I pay a lot of money to receive the medicine I need, make it worth it. Is what I have to say.

  4. Not Tellin' on

    Our enterprise was ready to apply until we saw the outrageous licensing costs and could immediately see that this was set up for absolute failure from the get go.

    The utter stupidity with which our state government has proceeded will ensure the financial collapse of MedPharm – (which is not a bad thing since they are from out of state (Colorado)) and maybe set this up with under the table deals well before the applications were even given out.In state producers really never had a chance – it was an inside set-up.

    Iowa has made sure the patients needing their meds will continue to find them from either CO dispensaries , or black market growers in Iowa and surrounding states . Those growers have been doing this for many years , are very good at what they do and have no interest in becoming part of the quagmire that state governments always create when all they care about is the TAX revenues and NOT the patient.

    Stupidity and wasting millions of dollars and resources for guaranteed failure is INSANITY.

  5. Casey A Patterson on

    I used to live in Iowa. I am now located in upstate NY. In NYS I receive medical marijuana for chronic pain (back injury and degenerative disc desease) and PTSD (because of being a victim of a violent crime that has left me unable to emotionally function.).
    I want to move back to Iowa! I miss the friendly people and the thriving economy, however the medical marijuana laws in the state of Iowa are preventing me from doing so. They are very restrictive and I can’t see myself leaving the state where I am sure i can continue my treatment with medical marijuana.
    Sense being treated my ptsd has been reduced drastically I can sleep at night, and my night terrors have significantly been reduced.

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