State's first licensed cannabis producer has local ties

Robert Maharry

Last week, The Des Moines Register broke the news that MedPharm Iowa had received approval from the Department of Public Health to become the first and likely only producer of medical cannabis in the state. In a surprising twist, the landmark enterprise has Grundy County connections: NuCara Pharmacy Founder and President TJ Johnsrud is a managing partner of MedPharm Holdings, its parent company.
During a free-flowing interview with The Grundy Register from his Conrad office, Johnsrud explained his personal background, how he developed an interest in medical marijuana and why he believes that Iowa should adopt successful practices from other states as it implements the new system. MedPharm is headquartered in Denver, Colorado—the epicenter of the cannabis business—and Kemin Industries CEO Chris Nelson, a fellow managing partner, will lead the operations of the Iowa branch. The third partner is Andy Williams, who is based in Colorado and is directly involved in the trade there.
Johnsrud graduated from the University of Iowa’s pharmacy school in 1966 and studied the medical uses of chemicals from plants, including cannabis, as a student.
“It was well-known for many years that the plant produced many actives (ingredients) that had great potential… It’s just the stigma that it brings,” he said. “I always say that a person probably sits there and is opposed to it while he’s drinking his scotch on the rocks. If you take an objective view of it, the plant needs to be studied.”
Cannabidiol, the oil derived from the cannabis plant, is now a popular treatment for children with seizures and adults suffering from long-term diseases and pain, but the drug still carries plenty of baggage from its past association with hippies, Hell's Angels, Black Panthers and war protestors. Johnsrud is well aware of the history , but he urges skeptics to consider the health benefits it could bring.
“I’ve always felt that one can have an opinion on most things in life until it affects them personally, and usually then they have a whole different slant on what they think,” he said. “If it was your son or daughter, you would not stop (until you found a solution).”
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