Harsh: lowa Republicans tried to crack down on THC drinks

Four cans of Climbing Kites THC drinks against a black background

Climbing Kites' four products, as of May 2024. (Photo courtesy Climbing Kites)

By Amie Rivers

May 8, 2024

Some Iowa Republicans wanted to crack down on the sale of THC drinks in the state. But the bill they passed won’t really change the drinks you can get.

As the Biden administration prepares to reclassify marijuana as a drug with medicinal properties, instead of being illegal for all purposes, Iowa Republicans tried to go the other way to harsh the mellow of successful products such as THC-infused drinks.

But it all ended up in smoke. Here’s how:

Hemp THC legalized in 2018

The Farm Bill of 2018 legalized the commercial production of hemp (rules went into effect in 2019). But in doing so, Congress accidentally opened the door to hemp-derived THC products nationwide.

That “Delta-8” and “Delta-9” labeling you see on products for sale online and in smoke shops? That’s THC derived from hemp, which is why you can (quasi-legally) buy them. THC made from marijuana plants remains illegal in Iowa outside of the state’s limited medical law.

To some, the difference between the two chemical compounds of THC—assuming the same percentage of THC—are similar in terms of the high. (If you want to get, erm, in the weeds on the subject, here’s a good primer on the difference.)

Congress could limit such products in the next Farm Bill if it chooses. But enforcement in the meantime has been left to the states.

Read: Iowa Misses Out As People Cross Border For Legal Illinois Marijuana

State responds with Iowa Hemp Act of 2020, new bill

In 2020, after those federal rules were finalized, the Iowa State Legislature passed the Iowa Hemp Act, which allowed farmers to grow hemp under limited circumstances. It also limited any products made to be under 0.3% THC “by volume.”

That proved to be a loophole that allowed the proliferation of a variety of products, including THC-infused seltzer Climbing Kites, advertised as “Iowa’s first THC drink,” which have between 2.5 and 10 milligrams of THC per can.

Des Moines-based Climbing Kites launched in May 2023 with four seltzers. It’s a joint project with breweries Big Grove Brewery and Lua Brewing, which both carry the drink. It’s also available in other Iowa locations, and is distributed to 42 states.

Naturally, Iowa Republicans—who refuse to consider Iowa Democrats’ proposals to legalize recreational weed—were pissed about it.

“Nobody envisioned with the legislation that we passed that there were going to be products—THC-infused from hemp—that were going to get people high,” Rep. Steve Holt, a Republican from Denison, told WHO 13. “We did not pass the hemp program as a closet recreational marijuana program.”

Read: Senate Democrats Try Again To Make Recreational Marijuana Legal In Iowa

The crackdown that wasn’t

Holt and other Republicans wanted the lowest-possible limits on THC, which Climbing Kites said would tank its THC drinks business.

“It’s like if we continued to allow beer, but set the alcohol limit at 1%,” Climbing Kites co-owner Scott Selix told WHO 13. “Yes, we could still make it, but 100% of our demand is above the limit that they would allow.”

The lobbying must have paid off. The final version of House File 2605 allows up to 4 milligrams “per serving” and 10 milligrams per container—exactly the limit Climbing Kites already has on its THC drinks, minus the serving size.

The bill passed the legislature on April 23 and, as of this writing, is awaiting the governor’s signature to become law.

Read: Biden pardons thousands of Americans convicted of marijuana possession

Only a labeling change

A Climbing Kites spokesperson told Starting Line the bill, if signed, is no longer a death sentence for the business.

“We would have to change the information on our nutritional panel to reflect the policy written into the amendment in order to meet compliance,” said Nick Iversen, brand manager for the company—presumably, adding a serving size to their THC drinks.

Iversen added the company and its four drinks are a net positive for the state’s drinking community.

“Climbing Kites is providing a healthy social drinking alternative to the community, and we hold responsible consumption and education at a premium,” he said.

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.

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