Following the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, Iowa legislators are now pondering the role hemp will play in Iowa’s agricultural landscape.
At a legislative luncheon held at Country Junction in Dyersville, four area representatives discussed the future of hemp as an industrial crop and marijuana for medical use.
Sen. Dan Zumbach traveled to Washington, D.C., to witness the signing of the bill, and early on in the meeting, he discussed the implications that go along with the decision to legalize industrial hemp.
In general, Zumbach said society does not know the difference between the uses of industrial hemp, the use of oil for medical purposes and the use as a recreational drug.
“They are three very different entities, so when you venture into this arena, it’s going to be emotionally charged,” he said. “We want to figure out how industrial hemp is going to fit into our agriculture and we want Iowa to decide how that will work — not have it dictated to us by the Federal government.”
Although they may be members of the same plant family, hemp and marijuana are two different plants.
Unlike marijuana, hemp contains very little tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or the substance that gets users “high.” But, hemp does contain cannabidiol (CBD) which has been found to have some medicinal uses.
According to the Associated Press, the Iowa legislature is currently deciding whether or not to allow CBD to be processed from industrial hemp.
But as far as Iowa is concerned for now, Zumbach said using industrial hemp for fiber and other materials will be the immediate priority. He said he would like to ease into any other changes slowly.
Once the luncheon transitioned into a Q & A session, the topic of cannabis came up again, this time from a man who said he uses the plant for medicinal purposes.
Richard Schneiter, of Monticello, held up a tote full of medication he said he uses to treat a terminal disease he was diagnosed with 10 years ago.
“It travels with me wherever I go and it costs my insurance company about $3,000 to keep me on this,” he said.
Schneiter said he turned to medical marijuana once his pain became too much to manage. That pain, he said, eventually forced him to go on disability.
After traveling to Colorado to conduct his own research on marijuana, Schneiter said he discovered smoking the drug would alleviate his pain within 15 minutes, which helped him return to the workforce.
“I turned back into a working Iowa resident,” he said of his experience with marijuana. “I now am holding a part-time job mowing lawns in the summer, which I couldn’t have done before.”
Schneiter said he began using cannabis oil, the use of which is approved for medical purposes for a range of different diseases in Iowa, but eventually, the impact of the oil began to wane.
“So now I’m using both cannabis oil and a puff of marijuana,” he said.
He said one “puff” can alleviate his pain for up to eight hours. He said he takes two of these a day.
He said this also has a tremendous impact on his sleep.
“It’s the first time in 25 years that I have got a full night’s sleep,” he said.
Schneiter wanted to know where the local legislators stood on fully legalizing marijuana for medical use.
Rep. Shannon Lundgren said she believes Iowa expanding the use of cannabis oil was great, as well as expanding the number of chronic conditions it can be used for.
“I have never been opposed to looking at legalized medical marijuana use,” she said. “But I will tell you flat-out that I am not for recreational marijuana. I think there’s a big difference.”
She stated Iowa has a lot more research to do, but there’s still the issue of it being illegal on the federal level.
“Even the states that legalized recreational use or medical marijuana, they’re still breaking federal laws,” she said. “So there’s an issue with the scheduling of marijuana on the list of narcotics that has to be addressed.”
Rep. Lee Hein said he voted in favor of the cannabis oil bill, but any further legalization is going to take some time.
Hein said they’ve taken the issue out of the legislature’s purview and moved it to be studied by a group of medical experts instead. He said this group can add conditions to the list for acceptable use without having to come back to the legislature for a vote.
“They may come back to us and say we need to allow for medical smoking — if they do, then that’s great. My concern is that I wanted to take it out of our hands and put it into the hands of people who actually understand it,” Hein said. “It’s going to take time, but I think that’s the way to handle (the situation),”
Zumbach said he can still remember when hearing about the issue of legalization when he was first elected, his position was “not on my watch.”
“Now here I am seven years later and I enthusiastically supported a cannabis oil bill,” he said.
The hardest thing for a legislator to do is sort through inaccurate information, he said.
He said even in the medical community there are still experts who are at odds with each other.
“Yet we leave it to legislators to make medical decisions and we’re not medical professionals. Working through this very slowly, we’re going to get a better (law),” he said. “If there’s anything that I’ve learned being in the legislature, it’s that hurried legislation usually ends up being not-good legislation.”
Zumbach said he sees medical legalization growing in the coming years, but growing in a controlled, and thoughtful way.
He said he’s been to Colorado to investigate what they’ve done with their legalization process, and he said they are having a lot of issues.
While he said Colorado positioned itself at the cutting edge of the issue, Iowa is still going to be a part of that knife.