IA: What Does A Medical Marijuana Dispensary Mean For The Area

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Iowa communities will know soon whether they will be getting a medical marijuana dispensary — and one could land right here in Council Bluffs.

Seven companies have submitted 21 applications to operate cannabis dispensaries in Iowa, and three of those are for Council Bluffs.

The dispensaries are part of a law approved by the Iowa Legislature last year.

Across the river, Nebraska does not have a law legalizing medical marijuana. A resolution this year to put medical marijuana on the ballot did not have enough support to be debated in the Legislature.

The Council Bluffs City Council voted 5-0 on Monday to lend its support to bringing a medical marijuana dispensary to the city. The final decision rests with the Iowa Department of Public Health, which will review the applications.

Councilman Roger Sandau, who put the resolution on the agenda, said the symbolic vote sends a message to state officials that the council understands the health benefits of having a dispensary in the city.

Council Bluffs Police Chief Tim Carmody said he supports helping people in pain but expressed concerns. He talked about marijuana-related crimes of the past few years and noted that dispensaries are cash-based businesses with products that could be the target of robberies.

The Iowa Department of Public Health plans to award up to five medical marijuana dispensary licenses by April 1.

The Omaha World-Herald talked with Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the department, about how the dispensaries will work.

Q: Who will be able to purchase the cannabis products?

A: Only permanent residents of Iowa will be allowed to purchase them. Residents of Nebraska or any other state will be not be eligible.

Q: How will that work?

A: Patients must fill out an application and the patient’s doctor must sign off on the application to certify that the patient has one of the conditions outlined in Iowa law, which include cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures and ALS. The patient submits the application to the Iowa Department of Public Health and pays a $100 fee. A reduced fee of $25 is available to certain individuals such as those receiving Medicaid. The department reviews the applications. If the department approves the application, the patient receives a special ID card that must be presented when purchasing medical marijuana.

Q: Must the doctor who signs off on the patient’s application be licensed in Iowa?

A: Yes, the doctor must be licensed in Iowa. A Nebraska physician who is also licensed in Iowa could sign off on the application.

Q: In what form will the marijuana be dispensed?

A: It will be dispensed as an oil or cream, containing 3 percent or less THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It will not be dispensed as a marijuana edible or marijuana cigarette.

Q: What other Iowa cities have dispensary applications been submitted for?

A: Four each have been filed for the Sioux City and Davenport areas; three for Des Moines; and single applications were filed for Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Coralville, Iowa City, Urbandale, Waterloo and Windsor Heights.

Q: Who will monitor the dispensaries?

A: The Iowa Department of Public Health will have oversight, which will include inspections.

Q: Does Nebraska have a law allowing medical marijuana?

A: No. Previous attempts in the Legislature to pass such legislation have been stymied by filibusters. State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln introduced a resolution this session that would allow voters to decide whether to legalize medical marijuana. But Wishart said the measure once again lacked the votes to overcome a filibuster, so she didn’t give it the priority designation it needed to qualify for first-round debate.

Q: What does Nebraska’s chief medical officer say about the resolution?

A: Dr. Thomas Williams testified against the resolution during a legislative hearing in February. He predicted that most physicians would be unwilling to prescribe a drug without having any confidence in its purity, potency and potential side effects.