Mat Miller is leading the way and he’s happy to do it.
“I’m the only guy. It’s been almost a year, and there’s nobody else doing this in Iowa,” said Miller, a longtime Ames resident and Boone High grad.
Miller, an Iowa native and Iraq War veteran, owns the Ames-based company, ICanna, and is the only certified organic processor of CBD in Iowa and his company was among the first licensed CBD processors in the state, and he’s proud to distill cannabidiol from Iowa-grown hemp.
CBD is a chemical found in marijuana but doesn’t contain THC, the ingredient found in marijuana that produces a high. CBD can be formulated as an oil, but also sold as an extract, a vaporized liquid and an oil-based capsule.
And in many parts of the country, it is big business.
“Right now, everything is handmade,” Miller said. “We take the hemp biomass, we clean it and sort it out. The way the hemp is farmed now is small scale one- or two-acre plots. It’s all hand harvested.”
Then the farmer hang-dries the plants in a barn, similar to tobacco. The farmer pulls the flowers off the plants — and don’t call them “buds” because that’s a term closely related to marijuana.
The bagged flowers are brought to ICanna, where it’s reduced in size with a food processor.
“Then we extract the CBD oil through a unique ethanol extraction process,” Miller said. “Ethanol extraction of plant extracts is pretty common, but we use a special parameter of alcohol extraction. Our process results in really high CBD yields without a lot of other byproducts.
“That helps us on the post-processing side so that we don’t have to treat it with a bunch of harsh chemicals and solvents. And that stays true to the USDA organic portion.”
It’s a one-step extraction process that leads to a product that’s about 75% CBD. After a color-correcting stage, Miller is able to use the CBD to create retail products.
ICanna is looking to partner with more retail shops
ICanna makes full-spectrum CBD oil and balm, which are available on the company’s website and at retail locations, such as Life Distilled on Ames’ Main Street, Salon Bonita in north Ames, Touch Therapy, a licensed massage therapist in Boone, and City Meat Market, a country store in New Albi, near one of ICanna’s growers.
It’s pretty simple to get a retail license in the state of Iowa, Miller said.
Miller officially started his LLC in September of 2021 after receiving its CBD processing license and began processing in March of that year.
“Hemp was legally allowed to be grown across the country in 2018,” Miller said. “So that’s really when the CBD industry started to expand.”
A few states were involved in a federal pilot program and were allowed to legally grow hemp in 2014, so things got started in states like Kentucky and Colorado earlier, he explained.
In 2018, the USDA allowed states to grow hemp but required each state to submit a plan to get approved to grow.
“Iowa took about a year to get set up, so no one in the state was allowed to grow until the 2020 growing season,” Miller said. “But there was still a legal gray area as to whether CBD products were going to be legal” because of U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules.
Before he was licensed, Miller worked with the state of Iowa to begin planning his west Ames facility, making sure everything would be built according to state regulations so he could be ready to go as soon as the licensing was approved.
Miller also got an organic certification from the Iowa Department of Agriculture. He contracts with organic farmers in Iowa, like a longtime organic farmer, French Creek Organic Farm, near Lansing.
French Creek is a fifth-generation family farm owned by Andy Leppert. It has been farmed organically since the late ’70s when Andy’s father realized the benefits of organic farming to the soil and the environment, Miller said.
From a one-acre plot, French Creek produced 1,800 pounds of hemp flowers, which the farmer delivered in about six huge bags. The flowers in each bag will produce about 7,000 bottles each containing 1,000 milligrams of CBD oil. ICanna contracted with the farmer for $16 per pound of hemp flowers – a payday of nearly $29,000 per acre.
Those are impressive numbers, but it’s not necessarily that lucrative for all farmers, Miller said.
“That’s more than most farmers make selling hemp,” he said. “And it’s an expensive industry to get into. One seed can cost $1.”
Miller’s tour of duty in Iraq led him to see the merits of CBD
There was a time in Iowa’s history, before the prohibition of cannabis of all kinds early in the 1900s, when hemp was a common crop.
“They used to use hemp for clothing and ropes,” Miller said. “The military used it for canvas. It was used for paper. Cannabis in general has an interesting history, and some of its prohibition was based on racism and some of it was based on corporate competition with cotton and other industries.”
Miller returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq in 2009 and, like many veterans, found that adjusting to civilian life wasn’t easy.
He served in the Army with the Iowa National Guard, stationed in Boone for about five years and Waterloo for four years. He was in the aviation unit and served in a medivac unit.
Although he doesn’t make any medical claims about his products, Miller experienced relief from CBD products. He also heard anecdotes about other people who were getting relief from CBD for post-traumatic stress, physical trauma and pain.
“Thankfully, I didn’t struggle a lot and I found relief pretty easily, but it’s what opened my eyes to the industry and seeing the potential here,” Miller said.
He offers a 35% discount to veterans and a 25% discount to students for items purchased on the ICanna website, ICannaLLC.com, which has an instant chat feature available for people who have questions for Miller about his products.