UI Environmental Coalition promotes industrialized hemp

BY DORA GROTE | APRIL 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local industrial-hemp advocates are pushing to loosen growing regulations of the crop in Iowa because of its economic, environmental, and health benefits.

"If we could grow it [in Iowa City], it gives a lot of opportunity for small-business startups," said UI Environmental Coalition Co-President Chelsea Krist.

The UI Environmental Coalition sponsored a hemp-advocacy event Monday evening to distribute hemp products and show the movie Hempsters for National Earth Week. Hemp is used in clothing, lotions, fuel, and other products, and it can be grown without herbicides and pesticides.

The plant Cannabis varieties produces both industrial hemp and marijuana. The former is high in fiber and low in tetrahydrocannabinal (THC) — the ingredient found in high concentrations in marijuana, according to the National Hemp Industry Association.

Industrial hemp was grown in the United States, including Iowa, during World War II for U.S. Army uniforms. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 classified hemp as a drug, and it requires farmers to obtain a permit for growing industrial hemp. No Iowans have permits.

Local hemp advocate Karen Kubby, the owner of Beadology, 220 E. Washington St., said legislators should allow industrial hemp to be grown in Iowa because of its strength, fiber, and nutritional value.

"It's an incredibly durable product," said Kubby, who sells five different colors of whipped hemp. "It looks great, and it's fun to use with beads. It's a renewable resource and a crop that [could be] easily grown in Iowa."

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said he's aware of the benefits of hemp clothing and would like to see a fair hearing to legalize the plant.

"I have several hemp shirts, silk shirts, and cotton shirts," said Johnson, the former head of the Senate Agricultural Committee. "In Iowa's hot and humid summer, there is nothing cooler or more comfortable than those hemp shirts."

According to the Vote Hemp website, a bill attempting to loosen hemp regulations in Iowa was presented to the Senate Agricultural Committee in 2003 but never made it out of committee.

Hemp is still considered the same as marijuana by federal laws, said Jeffrey Scott, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"Regardless if the THC is low, that does not change the fact that all cannabis plants are illegal and are considered marijuana," he said. "The reality is someone claiming to grow hemp has to deal with the claim to grow marijuana."

The Hemp Industries Association estimates the total retail value of U.S. hemp is about $419 million.

Eric Creach, the store manager at New Pioneer Co-op, 1101 Second St., Coralville, said the store sells hemp products for the health benefits.

"We carry lots of products that have hemp-seed oil in them, hemp milk, and hemp-seed-oil pills mainly because of its omega 3s and 6s," Creach said. Those [fats] are supposed to be really beneficial these days."

Creach said most of the hemp is imported from Canada, and growing it in the United States would be worthwhile.

Krist said hemp has not been a popular topic on campus, but she hopes to change the attitude of the discussion.

"Hemp advocacy is seen as some sort of hippie movement, and that's not what its about," Krist said. "It's not a conversation people are having on campus, but I think there is going to be some changing. I think it'll be growing and maybe we'll see an advocacy group formed."

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