Lawmakers look to bring industrial hemp production to Iowa

    Hemp plant in Illinois (KHQA/Marcus Espinoza)

    Republicans and Democrats in the statehouse are putting their weight behind a plan that would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp in Iowa.

    This comes after the federal 2018 Farm Bill gave states the authority on the issue, expanding the legal parameters so states can produce and sell hemp. It's a type of cannabis plant that has less than one percent of THC, the chemical compound that makes recreational marijuana users high. It can be used for fabric, paper and biofuels.

    36 Republicans and Democrats signed on as cosponsors of the bill, which would allow Iowa farmers to begin growing hemp as soon as this summer. Supporters say it’s a way to boost Iowa’s farm economy by adding a new cash crop.

    “I think it gives us more crop diversity in Iowa. It’s something we’ve needed for quite some time," said Bruce Beeston, a lobbyist for Iowa Hemp Industries Association. "It’ll take some farmers and make them profitable.”

    Under the proposal, farmers would be limited to 40 acres for any hemp production, at least at the beginning of the program. That's because lawmakers want to give local farmers the chance to cash in on the new crop.

    “We wanted to make sure small producers have the opportunity to enjoy this and not a couple of large companies come in and contract it out," said Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville.

    If the bill passes, Iowa would need to submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval. Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship would regulate the program and implement all fees associated with hemp farming. The state agency backs the proposal.

    Iowa is one of just nine states that doesn't already have a law on the books related to the cultivation of hemp for commercial, research or pilot programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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