State lawmakers consider expanding industrial hemp market

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Indiana lawmakers again are considering allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp, after an effort to legalize the product died in the Legislature earlier this year.

Members of the Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources heard from farmers Monday on the topic.

Don Zolman is CEO of Zolman Farms in Kosciusko County. He says having an alternative crop for Indiana farmers is vital at a time when the farming industry is difficult.

Only researchers at institutions are currently allowed to grow the plant. The committee toured Purdue University's hemp program to learn about how the plant's fibers, stalks and seed oil can be used in a variety of products. Purdue researchers say the plant is a different type of cannabis that doesn't produce a high.

Jeff Cummins of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture said the state would need time to create regulations for hemp.

The effort from earlier this year would have excluded industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. It  drew no opposition in the House, it lost momentum in the Senate. Opponents expressed concerns about relaxing Indiana's marijuana laws — even though industrial hemp differs from medical or recreational marijuana plants in THC content and appearance.

A federal law signed by President Obama in 2014 included a provision that allows institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp. Nineteen states, including Indiana, have established laws that provide for hemp pilot studies and production under the law's conditions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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