The Des Moines Register
Tuesday, April 30, 1997, Page 9A


Hemp crop proposals must shed their image problem

Hemp has many industrial uses, but opponents say the proposal just would make marijuana easier to obtain.


     Some people see a promising Iowa crop in the green stalks of hemp.
     Others see the dark shadow of marijuana.
     Some people marvel at the potential of an alternative crop that can be used in the manufacture of cloth, paper and building materials.
     Industrial hemp "is one of the most versatile crops I have ever heard of," says state Rep. Minnette Doderer, D-Iowa City.
     Others, such as Gov. Terry Branstad's drug policy chief, see only trouble for law enforcement and dashed expectations for Iowa farmers if they eventually are allowed to cultivate hemp, a variety of the plant that others grow as marijuana.
     "I think (hemp promoters) are well-intentioned people that have gotten some disinformation," said Charles Larson of the Governor's Alliance on Substance Abuse.  "It's both sad and humorous if they think they're going to make money for the farm."

Fell Into Laps
     Such conflicting views fell into the laps of legislators this session.  Law-makers considered a bill that would have authorized Iowa State University to conduct research on marketing and production of hemp, a crop that isn't exactly new to the state.  It was grown by Midwestern farmers during World War II to aid rope production for the US. Navy.
     For a while, the hemp research bill seemed to be on its way to approval.  It had the backing of the Iowa Farm Bureau and was endorsed by agriculture committees in both the House and Senate.
     "We thought we were making excellent progress over at the Capitol.  We were meeting little resistance," said Roger Gipple, a farm owner from Des Moines who lobbied for the research proposal.
     But Gipple and other hemp advocates were no match for Larson, a former Iowa public safety commissioner and U.S. district attorney.  He helped persuade legislative leaders to kill the bill, which he labeled a "marijuana-legalization act."

Branstad concerned
     Branstad appears to side with Larson.  "He has some serious concerns about hemp production," spokesman Eric Woolson said.
     Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller also opposed the legislation. "Current research concerning the economic viability of producing commercial hemp as an alternative crop is mixed at best.  At the same time, there are very serious drug-enforcement concerns with the proposals," says a statement from the attorney general's office.
     The Issue isn't necessarily dead, however.
     "We may bring it up (again) next year," said Rep. Effie Lee Boggess, a Villisca Republican who favors hemp research.
     Said Denny Presnall, a lobbyist for the Iowa Farm Bureau, "We would be foolish to at least not look at something like that, although there are some concerns on the drug side of" the issue.
     Both industrial hemp and marijuana are derived from the cannabis sativa plant.  The varieties grown for hemp are reported to contain less than 1 percent of the chemical that produces the euphoric high sought by pot smokers.  Marijuana contains 3 percent or more of the chemical.
     Larson contends the push to promote hemp is part of a coordinated effort to legalize and make marijuana acceptable."
     Supporters of the hemp research proposal say that's simply not true.
     Hemp opponents "need to get past this idea that we are pawns" of the marijuana-legalization movement, said Gipple, a Farm Bureau member.  "I don't smoke marijuana.  I'm not a person into drugs."