House sends industrial hemp bill back to Senate

The Indiana House approved a bill Monday that would allow farmers to grow hemp – a non-intoxicating cousin of marijuana – if the federal government lifts restrictions on the crop.

Senate Bill 357 passed 93-4 and moves back to the Senate where it has already passed. The Senate can now accept the changes made by the House or send it to a conference committee for further consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said hemp has more than 25,000 different uses. It’s used to make textiles, rope, medicines and other products.

But Clere said the hemp is not a plant that people can use to get high.

“This is not a marijuana bill,” Clere said. “That’s a discussion for another day. This is a discussion about agriculture.”

Industrial hemp production is still not authorized by federal law. But the farm bill passed recently by Congress would allow universities and agriculture departments to research it in states where lawmakers have legalized it. The goal would be that commercial production could follow later.

Hemp can be harvested just 120 days after planting and it doesn’t require any particular climate to grow. It is a hardy plant and naturally resistant to pests, eliminating the need for pesticides and herbicides, supporters say.

Southern Indiana produced industrial hemp rope as part of the war effort during World War II when the United States encouraged all farmers to grow hemp. However, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 lumped industrial hemp with marijuana and outlawed production of either, despite their differences.

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