Staff Columnist

Don't smoke any ditch weed this 4/20 holiday

Fort Madison (Ft. Madison), city of. Conservationist Bob Burchett walks through a Lee County (Co.) ditch which was burned off last spring and has been overtaken by a lush growth of prairie grass, squeezing out most of the weeds. Lee County supervisors have decided that prairie grass will be an ecologically sound solution to control weeds in roadside ditches. November 12, 1987.
Fort Madison (Ft. Madison), city of. Conservationist Bob Burchett walks through a Lee County (Co.) ditch which was burned off last spring and has been overtaken by a lush growth of prairie grass, squeezing out most of the weeds. Lee County supervisors have decided that prairie grass will be an ecologically sound solution to control weeds in roadside ditches. November 12, 1987.

April 20 is observed around the world as the marijuana holiday, sometimes known as 420 Day. Millions of people will spark up in celebration this weekend, some legally and some illegally.

I will happily abstain this year, and I encourage everyone else to make smart, healthy choices. But whatever you do, please don’t smoke anything you found in a ditch or a farmer’s field.

Some Americans have long been fixated on the idea that industrial crops or ditch weed might be used as recreational drugs. Advocates’ attempts to legalize hemp for its many practical applications — paper, textiles and building materials, to name a few — have been met with folk tales and urban legends about kids using wild weeds to get high.

Even Thomas Jefferson is said to have packed his pipe with hemp. Our nation’s third president once said, “Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.”

Except, actually, Jefferson never said that. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation reports that quote is not found in any of his known records, and can only be traced back to 2008.

Our neighbors in Nebraska are entertaining a proposal to legalize and regulate agricultural hemp, led by farmers who want the opportunity to try growing the versatile crop. This week, the bill earned initial approval from the unicameral legislature, but not without a healthy dose of misinformation from drug warriors.

Nebraska Sen. John Lowe wrongly told colleagues industrial hemp is a front for illicit drugs. Lowe, by the way, is a real estate developer, not a farmer or a scientist.

“The people of this state should not be hoodwinked by the name of hemp. People have rebutted that you don’t smoke ditch weed. I read an article where it is the hot new thing they are doing,” Lowe said, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

There is no doubt some misguided teenagers have tried to smoke wild plants and farmers’ crops, but rest assured it is not a “hot new thing.” The plant has extremely low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and is not treated or processed for human consumption.

Ditch weed is a common discussion point in the internet’s bustling marijuana forums. The consensus is that the plants are interesting from a horticulture perspective, but terrible as recreational drugs.

“(Eighteen-year-old) me had to know, I dried some and smoked it. Can confirm on headache, coughing, and no high,” one user, coincidentally based in Nebraska, wrote on a Reddit discussion board a few years ago.

Iowa, too, has suffered from misconceptions about hemp. Bills to authorize production have been repeatedly rejected by the Legislature for more than 20 years.

This year, there are strong signs reason is winning out against fear. The Iowa Senate voted 49-1 on a bill to legalize production of industrial hemp, as authorized by last year’s federal Farm Bill. The bill now goes to the Iowa House for consideration.

House approval is no sure thing — the chamber neglected to take up the Senate’s hemp bill last year. If the facts prevail, it will be cause for celebration.

But please, don’t light the stuff up at your victory party.

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

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