Modified hemp legalization bill moves to full House

The legalization of the production of industrial hemp is a step closer to reality in Indiana after the House Agricultural Committee passed an amended bill Tuesday.

The measure now goes to the full House for consideration. It was unanimously passed by the Senate earlier this month.

The bill does not affect the state’s marijuana laws. Instead, it legalizes the production of one of its botanical cousins. Hemp is a multipurpose crop that can be used in the production of textiles, foods, plastics, building materials and medicines but it doesn’t have the intoxicating qualities of pot.

Industrial hemp can be used in the production of fuel, a fact that caused committee members to tack on an amendment to the bill related to biofuels before advancing it.

The amendment would provide liability protection for the fuel industry in the event consumers accidentally use the wrong type of biofuel in their cars. This is likely to become an issue because new generations of biofuels will contain higher levels of ethanol.

Currently, the E-10 type of fuel, which contains up to 10 percent of ethanol, is the most common across the state. But a new type of fuel is set to be released, E-15, which contains 50 percent more ethanol than E-10 and could potentially damage cars not meant to run on it.

“This amendment is common sense,” said Dave Hudak, secretary treasurer of the Indiana Ethanol Producers Association. "It helps Indiana make fuels reach the marketplace. It gives the station owners peace of mind knowing that they’re protected in the event that a consumer puts an incompatible fuel in their vehicle, which could happen today with other types of fuels."

Ten other states have passed similar legislation, and Congress is also working to legalize industrial hemp at a federal level. Sen. Richard Young Jr, D-Milltown, warned other lawmakers of the negative consequences of not passing the bill. He said the legislation could have a profound impact on the state's agricultural and manaufacturing sectors and the jobs they create.

Bob Kraft, representing the North American Industrial Hemp Council, agreed.

“Other states are positioning themselves to take advantage and to put their farmers in the position to take advantage of an opportunity that will occur when, not if, but when the federal government decides to lift its prohibition,” Kraft said. “And it makes no sense at all for the state of Indiana to preclude our farmers from positioning ourselves to be able to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Hemp is also used for medicinal purposes. Cannabis component Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, can be used as an anti-inflammatory to the brain and body. According to two Indiana mothers, clinical studies show CBD is one of the most effective tools in the treatment of Dravet syndrome, an epilepsy condition that causes severe seizures and affects their sons.

Miriah Mershon and Brandy Barrett emotionally expressed their hope the bill would become law.

“I just want that opportunity. I want the opportunity to try this on my son. This is a genetic condition that was not inherited. It was not caused by an outside factor, it just happened,” Mershon said.

Barrett agreed.

“We now know that it is possible for Noah and for others to see progress. It has been shown that if seizure activity can be decreased or stopped, the brain has time to heal and rewire,” she said.

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