Staff Columnist

Reefer madness at the Iowa Capitol

If hemp made people high, it would already be available on the black market

This promotional photo provided by Showtime shows actors John Kassir, left, and Christian Campbell in a scene from the cable network's movie musical,
This promotional photo provided by Showtime shows actors John Kassir, left, and Christian Campbell in a scene from the cable network's movie musical, "Reefer Madness." (AP Photo/Showtime, Paul Michaud)

The futility of government prohibition is so palpable you can smell it on a day like today.

April 20 has been known for years as the marijuana holiday. Thousands of Iowa outlaws likely will spark up today in celebration. An afternoon stroll through a university dormitory could provide aromatic evidence thereof.

This columnist firmly condemns illicit drug use. So does the government, but that hasn’t stopped millions of Americans from partaking. Federal authorities estimate around 47 million Americans illegally use drugs, including marijuana, over the course of a year.

State officials estimate only about 6 percent of Iowans currently use marijuana. However, a statewide youth survey showed 52 percent of Iowa high school juniors said it would “easy” or “very easy” to access marijuana.

Drug control authorities say they are alarmed by the number of students who say there is no risk to smoking marijuana, which has doubled in recent years. But at the same time, the portion of students surveyed who say they use marijuana has dropped. Among high school juniors, 15 percent reported use in 2002, compared to 10 percent in 2016.

Despite the many ounces of evidence showing prohibition is more costly than it is beneficial, Iowa policymakers are hesitant to embrace the cannabis modernization movement sweeping the nation. Even a modest reform package for industrial hemp has stalled as the legislative session reaches its final weeks.

Senate File 2398 would create hemp programs governed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture, a state university and a new industrial hemp council. In the four years since Congress authorized such projects in the 2014 federal farm bill, most other states have passed laws to create their own hemp programs. Not Iowa.

That bill cleared the Iowa Senate 49-0 and earned approval from an Iowa House subcommittee this month, but has not advanced since.

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“I would suggest this bill has been around for probably one of the longest times of any of the bills floating around here,” Iowa Sen. Jerry Behn said on the Senate floor earlier this month, noting hemp bills have been introduced in the Iowa Legislature since the 1990s.

Lawmakers succumbed to reefer madness and mucked up the bill by outlawing the use of hemp for medical cannabis products and requiring regular testing to ensure too much tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, doesn’t creep into the crop.

That was totally unnecessary, since the marijuana people use to get high is already available to most high school upperclassmen, as evidenced by the statewide youth survey. Removing a few of the barriers for the plant commonly known as ditch weed will have no impact on the sale of street drugs.

Industrial hemp does not make anyone high. If it did, the black market would already be offering it. Instead, it stands to be an economically and environmentally valuable crop for an agriculture community struggling with low corn and soybean prices.

“This bill really is our attempt to allow another commercial diversification for Iowa’s farmers,” Behn added.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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