Kurt Krieger inspects one of the cannabis plants growing outside his family’s greenhouse and flower shop in Jefferson. The Krieger family was granted one of the first state licenses this year to grow hemp, a type of cannabis with minuscule amounts of THC. With their hemp, they hope to soon dominate Iowa’s burgeoning market for products containing cannabidiol, or CBD. ANDREW McGINN | JEFFERSON HERALD PHOTOSIt looks like marijuana, but it’s not. Hemp contains THC levels below 0.3 percent. The state this year lifted a decades-long prohibition on growing hemp.Ann Grace Krieger, with sons Kurt (left) and Andy, has seen the family greenhouse business through good times and bad. Andy Krieger believes the best times are yet to come thanks to their new state license to grow hemp. They’ll soon also produce and sell their own line of cannabis-derived health products containing CBD at Greene Goods, the family’s new retail store. ANDREW McGINN | JEFFERSON HERALD PHOTOSA sign at Krieger Greenhouses and Flower Shop in Jefferson warns would-be trespassers that, in short, stealing and smoking their hemp would be a drag. It contains just 0.3 percent THC, the compound in marijuana that produces a high.

POSSESSION WITH INTENT TO DISTRIBUTE

Krieger family at forefront of Iowa hemp

By ANDREW MCGINN

a.mcginn@beeherald.com

Andy Krieger says education is going to be a big component of his family’s new business endeavor.

Considering that, just a year ago, his business model would have brought felony charges and a visit from the Mid-Iowa Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, that’s probably not a bad idea.

For the time being, though, video cameras will keep watch over a small plot of hemp growing in the open air outside Krieger Greenhouses and Flower Shop on Westwood Drive.

“NO THC” reads the sign, warning potential trespassers that not all cannabis is the same, something Iowa legislators finally just grasped themselves.

In reality, trying to smoke any of Krieger’s hemp would be about as pointless as smoking a poinsettia or an Easter lily — and that’s what he hopes to impart in the coming weeks and months.

“It’s all the health without the high,” Krieger, 54, touted on a recent morning. “This is a big deal.”

As soon as the state gives the OK, the local family hopes to dominate Iowa’s dawning CBD market — growing, processing and retailing over-the-counter cannabis products containing the compound cannabidiol under the brand name Greene Goods.

“We want to be the first to market,” Krieger said.

What once would have been deemed “possession with intent to distribute” is now a perfectly legitimate business venture with the proper state license.

Greene Goods is also the name of the family’s new health market that opens Tuesday by appointment at 1608 Westwood Drive, where the Kriegers will offer fresh vegetables, herbs, homemade soap and candles, and a line of family recipe canned goods, Ernie’s Recipe.

The in-house CBD products — an oral tincture, lotion, a muscle rub and candies — will arrive for sale just as soon as the state of Iowa gives the word that retail sales can commence.

“We are cranked,” Krieger said.

Brother Ross Krieger, the family’s head grower, spent two years in Oregon, Colorado and other western states learning how to grow cannabis in anticipation of the day when Iowa would no longer regard industrial hemp as a controlled substance.

That day came this past spring, when the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship granted the first 73 licenses for farmers to grow up to 40 acres of hemp. The Krieger family received state license No. 7 and got right to work growing 178,000 hemp seedlings — primarily at the family’s growing facility in Boone — for Iowa farmers to plant.

The application period to grow outdoor hemp in Iowa closed May 15, but will reopen in early 2021, according to the state department of agriculture.

The beginning of the end of prohibition on industrial hemp — cannabis containing THC levels below 0.3 percent — began with a provision in the 2018 Farm Bill that exempted hemp from the federal list of Schedule I controlled substances and added it to the list of agricultural commodities eligible for crop insurance.

Marijuana — cannabis with THC levels greater than 0.3 percent — is still strictly illegal in Iowa.

Then again, as Krieger said, he can grow hemp, but he still can’t process it in-state or sell products containing CBD. That change is expected soon, he said, and when it happens, the Kriegers will again be ready with product that has been processed across the state line in Wisconsin.

He said that between the family’s growing sites in Boone and Jefferson, they could grow enough hemp and extract enough CBD to supply the Midwest.

“If we can establish a brand at the forefront of this Iowa movement, it will carry us a long time,” Krieger said.

When word started to spread that Iowa would begin allowing the sale of CBD products, he said their entire business model changed in June from strictly growing hemp to overseeing a product line from start to finish.

To say the situation is fluid would be an understatement, considering that just eight months ago, an Ankeny store owner was splashed across the news when she was arrested for selling gummies containing CBD.

All cannabis was made illegal in the U.S. in 1937 with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act, although industrial hemp production briefly resumed during World War II in order to grow fiber for parachute webbing, rope and boot laces.

Cannabis sativa L. contains more than 80 active chemical compounds, including the high-producing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and the non-psychoactive cannabidiol, or CBD, which has been touted in recent years for its health potential.

Users of products containing CBD have heralded its benefits for everything from arthritis to anxiety.

“I think it’s revolutionary,” said Krieger, who admittedly got on a health kick himself recently. “I won’t call it a miracle, because that gets people’s hopes up. It serves a need of a 100 percent natural, well-balanced health supplement for your overall health and well-being.”

That said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to date has only approved one CBD product — a prescription drug to treat two rare forms of epilepsy.

“No one should be wary of it,” he said, calling it 100 percent natural.

Licensed growers in Iowa are subject to a gauntlet of regulation. For example, before each harvest, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship must officially sample and test plants — if any sample is found to exceed 0.3 percent THC, the entire crop is destroyed.

To Krieger, it’s all worth it.

“It’s the right time for the product,” he said. “People want to know, start to finish, where their products are coming from.”

“We’re in control of all aspects of it,” he said.

Hemp, he said, is also renewable.

In addition to a line of CBD products, the Kriegers have a contract to sell hemp fiber to someone who wants to produce what’s known in Europe as hempcrete — a cannabis-derived alternative to concrete.

“It’s stronger than steel,” Krieger explained, “but the industry has never been developed.”

For years, greenhouse owners like the Kriegers have been urged to diversify. For Andy Krieger, hemp represents the best possible option for them to flower again after nearly being uprooted by box stores like Walmart and Home Depot in an unending quest to sell bedding plants at ever cheaper prices.

Now a fifth-generation family company, Krieger Greenhouses remains every bit a family affair, with 86-year-old matriarch Ann Grace at the center of it. 

Sons Kurt, Ross and Andy, and daughter Suzanne, all have a hand in the Greene Goods endeavor. Patriarch Ernie Krieger, whose name lives on in the Ernie’s Recipe line, died in 2016.

“It has brought our family together like you can’t imagine,” Andy Krieger said. “It’s completely energized us.”

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