DES MOINES, Iowa — A state agency offered licenses Tuesday to three companies to operate five medical marijuana dispensaries in Iowa.
The Iowa Department of Public Health announced that cannabis oil sales would be permitted in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Davenport, Waterloo and the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights.
Permits will be required to purchase medical marijuana, with sales to begin by Dec. 1. Qualifying medical conditions could include cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, untreatable pain and painful terminal illnesses. Permits will be issued to adult patients living in Iowa and primary caregivers of patients living in Iowa.
Smoking marijuana, whether for medical or recreational purposes, remains prohibited. Marijuana extracts, including cannabis oil, are illegal under federal law.
Sally Gaer, a West Des Moines mother whose adult daughter uses cannabis oil, said the dispensaries might make a difference for her family once sales begin. What will matter is the range of products that will be available, including those with higher amounts of THC, the compound associated with marijuana’s psychoactive effects.
“We’re hopeful,” Gaer said.
Iowa will allow oil with up to 3 percent THC, which Gaer said is beyond the level she can have shipped into the state for her daughter. Gaer has advocated for expanding medical marijuana, including organizing outreach efforts in 2014 when state lawmakers legalized possession of cannabis oil to treat epilepsy.
MedPharm Iowa, the state’s only licensed manufacturer, was offered licenses for Sioux City and Windsor Heights dispensaries. The Des Moines-based company said in a news release that having access to patients would help it continue to improve its products.
Have a Heart Compassion Care was offered licenses to operate in Council Bluffs and Davenport. Iowa Cannabis Company would operate in Waterloo.
The state received 21 applications for dispensaries from seven companies. An Iowa Department of Health spokeswoman declined to confirm Tuesday whether the companies accepted the licenses. They have until Wednesday morning to make a decision.
Legislation passed last year for the cannabis oil program said the locations for the dispensaries should be selected by the Iowa Department of Public Health based on “geographic need” with input from the board overseeing the program. Lawmakers approved up to five dispensaries, although fewer would have been allowed.
The department determined 11 of the applications were eligible but not selected, including proposals for Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Coralville. Five applications were deemed ineligible, including ones in Cedar Falls and Urbandale.
Sioux City and Council Bluffs were considered necessary to provide access to western Iowa, while the Des Moines metropolitan area serves central Iowa and Davenport serves eastern Iowa. The department gave the remaining license to Waterloo “to provide the best geographical distribution” by serving northern Iowa, communications director Polly Carver-Kimm said in an email.
Several cities had offered their support for proposals to bring dispensaries to their communities. The mayors of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Coralville were among those who sent letters to the department supporting proposals for their communities.