Iowa’s fledgling medical-marijuana program has drawn interest from 22 potential cannabis shop owners, including people already involved in the business in other states.
Thursday was the deadline for potential dispensary owners to file “letters of intent” with the Iowa Department of Public Health. The state plans to license up to five dispensaries, which would sell a form of marijuana extract known as cannabidiol. Such products contain relatively little THC, the chemical that makes recreational marijuana users high.
The 22 businesses filed a total of 71 letters of intent by Thursday’s deadline. Some of the potential applicants filed multiple letters because they’re considering several possible store locations. Their identities are confidential under state law.
Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, noted that the letters of intent don’t commit potential shop owners to apply for permits. “It’s too early to really tell what we’ll actually get in terms of applications,” she said.
Reisetter said the letters included some from people who are involved in selling medical-marijuana products in other states. She said the letters suggested potential dispensaries are being considered in various parts of Iowa.
The deadline to apply for dispensary licenses is March 8, and applicants will have to pay a $5,000 fee.
Nine companies filed letters of intent last year to apply for a license to produce medical marijuana extracts in Iowa, but just one went on to actually apply last fall. That company, MedPharm, expects to open a production facility in Des Moines this year.
The health department had planned to award two production licenses, and it intends to reopen the application process for such a permit in the next few months.
Some medical-marijuana proponents had voiced concern that few companies would be interested in participating in Iowa’s relatively small program. They predicted the tight rules on what products can be sold and who can purchase them could limit the size of the market.
But Reisetter said Friday she remains optimistic that the state will have a functioning cannabidiol production and distribution system up and running by next December, as called for in a law legislators passed last spring.
The law bars products that could be smoked or eaten. It also bars products with more than 3 percent of THC, the chemical that makes recreational marijuana users high.
Iowa’s previous medical-marijuana law only allowed possession of a marijuana-derived oil for use by people with severe forms of epilepsy.
The new law allows possession of approved marijuana products by patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures, AIDS or HIV, Crohn’s disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, as well as most terminal illnesses that involve untreatable pain and a life expectancy of less than one year.
Health-food and vape shops around Iowa already are selling products similar to the cannabidiol products that are to be offered by the new state-regulated distribution system.
Those shop owners contend their products are legal hemp extracts that contain so little THC they can’t be considered marijuana. However, federal and state authorities disagree, and police in at least two towns have recently seized cannabidiol products from store shelves.