Staff Editorial

In Iowa Legislature, a big step for hemp

This week the Iowa Senate voted 49-1 for legislation allowing individual farmers to grow up to 40 acres of industrial hemp. It’s a welcome move that’s been a long time coming. We urge the House and Gov. Kim Reynolds to follow the Senate’s lead.

There’s been talk for years of legalizing the production of hemp in Iowa. Backers see the versatile plant as a future cash crop, with varied uses from paper and textiles to food additives. It’s also a part of Iowa’s past, with tens of thousands of acres of hemp planted during World War II to provide material for rope, twine and other products needed in the war effort.

Unfortunately, as a botanical cousin of marijuana, hemp became knotted up in the war on drugs. Even though hemp has a tiny fraction of the psychoactive chemical THC found in marijuana, opponents raised fears that industrial hemp legalization would lead Iowa to legal pot. At the very least, they argued, illegal marijuana plants could be camouflaged in industrial hemp fields.

Thankfully, the slippery slope has yielded to a smarter, more reasonable legislative approach to hemp.

The latest federal Farm Bill jolted the debate, effectively legalizing hemp production nationwide. Iowa is one of just a handful of states without some kind of industrial hemp program. The Senate’s overwhelming vote puts the state on course to change that.

At a time when markets for traditional crops thrown into uncertainty by a trade war and other economic factors, providing farmers with new options and markets is the right call.

If it becomes law, the Senate bill would take effect July 1. That means by the summer of 2020, Iowans will begin to see rows of hemp growing in farm fields. After decades of debate, it will be a welcome sight.

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