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MedPharm Iowa
Medical marijuana dispensary set to open in Sioux City Saturday

SIOUX CITY -- Patients seeking cannabis to ease symptoms associated with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and other qualifying medical conditions will be able to purchase creams, tinctures and capsules in Sioux City when MedPharm Iowa opens its medical marijuana dispensary Saturday.

The dispensary, 5700 Sunnybrook Drive, is one of five state-licensed dispensaries that will now be operating in Iowa and one of two owned by MedPharm Iowa. Dispensaries are also located in Council Bluffs, Windsor Heights, Waterloo and Davenport.

Stephen Wilson, head of dispensary operations for MedPharm Iowa, said the Sioux City dispensary will be serving 45 patients out of the gate with the Aliviar brand of medical cannabis products. Aliviar offers four formulations dubbed, "Soothe," "Calm," "Harmony" and "Comfort." The products are grown, formulated and packaged at a location in Des Moines.

"I'm sure after we open, we'll see an uptick in patients after people have been able to observe what we're doing and feel more comfortable with the process," Wilson said.

In May 2014, then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed the Medical Cannabidiol Act, which allowed the possession of CBD oil with a neurologist's recommendation for the treatment of intractable epilepsy. The law came under fire, because it gave patients no legal way of obtaining CBD oil. Then, in May 2017, Branstad authorized the expanded Medical Cannabidiol Act, which paved the way for the legal growing and dispensing of medical marijuana in the state and expanded the list of medical conditions covered by the law.

Cannabidiol is a chemical found in cannabis plants that is used for products that help treat medical conditions. Under Iowa law, medical cannabis cannot contain more than 3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the element in marijuana that produces a high.

"Patients who need THC, for whatever their conditions or symptoms, will still be able to find relief from our higher THC formulation products," Wilson said.

Located at the edge of a strip mall in Morningside, MedPharm Iowa is monitored 24-7 by video surveillance and staffed by a security guard. The space, which resembles an Apple store, is bright and contemporary-looking. On the other side of the front desk, patients meet with a consultant at stations equipped with tablets. Using MedPharm's app, patients learn about MedPharm Iowa's production process from seed to sale and determine which product will best meet their needs.

Once they've chosen a formulation of medical cannabis to purchase, patients move to a counter at the back of the dispensary, where the products are stored in a locked cabinet. Before receiving a product, Wilson said labels containing the patient's ID and transaction number are affixed to the packaging, which is tamper-resistant.

In order to buy cannabis, Iowans have to have a qualifying medical condition that has been certified by a physician or be an approved caregiver of a patient with a qualifying condition. Patients or caregivers must submit an application to the Iowa Department of Public Health, and if approved, obtain a cannabidiol registration card from the Iowa Department of Transportation before they can make a purchase at a dispensary.

"Any MD or DO will be able to certify. Unfortunately, we've had some trouble with physicians in the Siouxland area. I don't know if that's because there's a lack of information," Wilson said. "Their role is to simply certify that patients have this condition. We encourage open communication between patients and physicians, but physicians are not required to recommend products."

The products, which are not covered by private health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, vary in price, according to Wilson, who said tinctures could range from $70 to $130, while capsules could run $30 to $80 depending on the formulation and dosage.

"We're not allowed to sell any more than a 90-day supply," he said. "That is completely up to us as a dispensary as to what constitutes a 90-day supply. It will vary from patient to patient."

Next year, Wilson said MedPharm Iowa will advocate for the Legislature to add more medical conditions to the state's program, including post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia. He said dispensaries are also pushing for nurse practitioners and physician assistants to be able to certify qualifying conditions, the THC cap to be removed and additional forms of medical cannabis consumption to be allowed under Iowa law.

"Vaporization is a big form that we're pushing for. Vaporization doesn't make sense without the THC cap being removed," he said. "We're advocating that the 3 percent cap gets removed. That will allow us to formulate and produce our products much more efficiently, which equates to cheaper costs to the patients involved."

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Van Meter Inc. has donated to the Journal's Goodfellows charity. Employees are shown Nov. 20, at the electrical supply company's Sioux City location.  

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Former Sioux Center teacher pleads guilty to sexual contact with students

ORANGE CITY, Iowa -- They kept their emotions in check throughout the hearing. But once it was over, the dozens who had watched former Sioux Center, Iowa, teacher Curtis Van Dam plead guilty to having sexual contact with at least six young boys could release their feelings.

Many hugged outside the courtroom. Others spoke softly with one another in the Sioux County Courthouse rotunda. Some dabbed tears from their eyes.

All had filled the courtroom and showed little visible emotion as Van Dam, 37, of Sioux Center, pleaded guilty Friday in Sioux County District Court to one count of second-degree sexual abuse, five counts of third-degree sexual abuse and one count of sexual exploitation by a school employee.

As he reviewed each of the charges with Van Dam, District Judge Steven Andreasen referred to the evidence and minutes of testimony -- a court document containing a synopsis of what witnesses might say if called to testify at trial -- while determining whether Van Dam was guilty.

"Do the minutes state what you did?" Andreasen asked.

"Yes, your honor," Van Dam answered quietly.

Prison sentences for the charges to which Van Dam pleaded add up to 80 years, but it will be up to Andreasen to decide if all or some of the charges will be served consecutively -- back to back -- or concurrently -- at the same time -- or a combination of the two.

Van Dam, who taught for nine years at Sioux Center Christian School, will receive, at minimum, 25 years for the second-degree sexual abuse charge, and he must serve at least 17.5 years of that sentence before he's eligible for parole.

Andreasen also could order Van Dam's prison sentence for the state charges to be served consecutively to a 15-year federal prison sentence he received in September after pleading guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a child, a charge stemming from a separate set of victims and circumstances in Sioux Center. At that sentencing, U.S. District Judge Leonard Strand recommended the term be served consecutively to his state sentence.

Andreasen scheduled sentencing for Jan. 11. Sentencing initially had been scheduled for Friday, but Van Dam's attorney, Edward Bjornstad, of Spirit Lake, Iowa, had  earlier asked that it be delayed so Van Dam can obtain a psycho-sexual evaluation before he's sentenced, enabling Andreasen to consider its findings at sentencing.

Under terms of a plea agreement, Van Dam will be required to register for life with the Iowa Sex Offender Registry and will serve a special sex offender sentence in which he will be on parole for life after his release from prison. If he were to violate terms of the special sentence, he could be returned to prison. Van Dam also must pay $1,750 in civil penalties.

Accused of having sexual contact with at least 13 children between August 2014 and October 2017, Van Dam faced 146 charges, 103 of them felonies, related to inappropriate contact with children. The remaining charges will be dismissed as part of his plea agreement.

In his own words, Van Dam told Andreasen that he had engaged in sex acts against the will of six victims, one of them under age 12. He admitted that he touched their genitals and that all were students. The separate incidents to which he pleaded occurred as long ago as Oct. 5-30, 2015, and as recent as Oct. 17, 2017.

Van Dam was arrested on Oct. 23, 2017, after the parents of an 11-year-old boy reported that Van Dam had had sexual contact with their son. At least 15 boys later came forward to report incidents involving Van Dam, police have said. He was accused of sexually abusing or having inappropriate contact with some of the children on at least 24 separate occasions over several months.

According to court documents, some or all of the children were under age 12 or 13, and the incidents took place at various locations, including at school. A fifth-grade teacher, Van Dam was fired after charges mounted against him.

Van Dam

Back-to-back earthquakes shatter roads and windows in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Back-to-back earthquakes measuring 7.0 and 5.7 rocked buildings and shattered roads Friday morning in Anchorage, sending people running into the streets and briefly triggering a warning to residents in Kodiak to flee to higher ground for fear of a tsunami.

The warning was lifted without incident a short time later. There were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the first and more powerful quake was centered about 7 miles (12 kilometers) north of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, with a population of about 300,000. People ran from their offices or took cover under desks.

A large section of road near the Anchorage airport collapsed, marooning a car on a narrow island of pavement surrounded by deep chasms in the concrete. Several cars crashed at a major intersection in Wasilla, north of Anchorage, during the shaking.

Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll said he had been told that parts of the Glenn Highway, a scenic route that runs northeast out of the city past farms, mountains and glaciers, had "completely disappeared."

The quake broke store windows, opened cracks in a two-story building downtown, disrupted electrical service and disabled traffic lights, snarling traffic. It also threw a full-grown man out of his bathtub.

All flights were halted at the airport after the quake knocked out telephones and forced the evacuation of the control tower, and the 800-mile Alaska oil pipeline was shut down while crews were sent to inspect it for damage.

Anchorage's school system canceled classes and asked parents to pick up their children while it examined buildings for gas leaks or other damage.

Jonathan Lettow was waiting with his 5-year-old daughter and other children for the school bus near their home in Wasilla when the quake struck. The children got on the ground while Lettow tried to keep them calm.

"It's one of those things where in your head, you think, 'OK, it's going to stop,' and you say that to yourself so many times in your head that finally you think, 'OK, maybe this isn't going to stop,'" he said.

Soon after the shaking stopped, the school bus pulled up and the children boarded, but the driver stopped at a bridge and refused to go across because of deep cracks in the road, Lettow said.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tweeted that her home was damaged: "Our family is intact — house is not. I imagine that's the case for many, many others."

Officials opened an Anchorage convention center as an emergency shelter. Gov. Bill Walker issued a disaster declaration.

Cereal boxes and packages of batteries littered the floor of a grocery store, and picture frames and mirrors were knocked from living room walls.

People went back inside after the first earthquake struck, but the 5.7 aftershock about five minutes later sent them running back into the streets. A series of smaller aftershocks followed.

A tsunami warning was issued along Alaska's southern coast. Police in Kodiak, a city of 6,100 people on Kodiak Island, 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Anchorage), warned residents to evacuate to higher ground immediately because a wave could hit within about 10 minutes.

Michael Burgy, a senior technician with the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, said the warning was automatically generated based on the quake's size and proximity to shore. Scientists monitored gauges to see if the quake generated big waves. Because there were none, they canceled the warning.

In Kenai, southwest of Anchorage, Brandon Slaton was alone at home and soaking in the bathtub when the earthquake struck. Slaton, who weighs 209 pounds, said it created a powerful back-and-forth sloshing in the bath, and before he knew it, he was thrown out of the tub by the waves.

His 120-pound mastiff panicked and tried to run down the stairs, but the house was swaying so much that the dog was thrown off its feet and into a wall and tumbled to the base of the stairs, Slaton said.

Slaton ran into his son's room after the shaking stopped and found his fish tank shattered and the fish on the floor, gasping for breath. He grabbed it and put it in another bowl.

"It was anarchy," he said. "There's no pictures left on the walls, there's no power, there's no fish tank left. Everything that's not tied down is broke."

Alaska averages 40,000 earthquakes per year, with more large quakes than the 49 other states combined. Southern Alaska has a high risk of earthquakes because the Earth's plates slide past each other under the region.

Alaska has been hit by a number of powerful quakes over 7.0 magnitude in recent decades, including a 7.9 that hit last January southeast of Kodiak Island. But it is rare for a quake this big to strike so close such a heavily populated area.

David Harper was getting some coffee at a store when the low rumble began and intensified into something that sounded "like the building was just going to fall apart." Harper ran to the exit with other patrons.

"The main thought that was going through my head as I was trying to get out the door was, 'I want this to stop,'" he said. Harper said the quake was "significant enough that the people who were outside were actively hugging each other. You could tell that it was a bad one."

On March 27, 1964, Alaska was hit by a 9.2 earthquake, the strongest recorded in U.S. history, centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Anchorage. The quake, which lasted about 4½ minutes, and the tsunami it triggered claimed about 130 lives.