Hemp-production bill approved by General Assembly

Legislation that would increase hemp production in Indiana is on the way to Gov. Eric Holcomb for his approval.

The measure cleared its final legislative hurdles Wednesday, passing the Senate 39-9 and the House 94-3.

Hemp is a strain that comes from the cannabis sativa plant, the same plant that produces marijuana. The main difference between hemp and cannabis is that hemp contains a lower amount of THC, the chemical responsible for producing a “high” feeling. Hemp also is used for multiple industrial purposes.

Senate Bill 516, authored by Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, would keep CBD oil legal within Indiana, but all other variants would be illegal. In addition, anyone growing hemp without a license could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and face a civil penalty of up $10,000.

The bill also establishes the Indiana Hemp Advisory Committee to advise the governor’s administration on the state’s hemp laws. The committee will be made up of members of the hemp industry as well as regulators, and will be dissolved after two years.

“This is a bill we simply have to pass for Hoosier farmers,” Head said. “It will help them and help our economy.”

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, said the legislation would open markets for Indiana farmers.

“This bill is a big deal for farmers in the state,” he said. “This will keep that money in Indiana, allow it to circulate.”

One of the nine votes against the bill in the Senate came from Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who said the bill does not do enough to fully regulate hemp in the state.

“My no vote is not because I don’t want this bill to go forward,” she said. “I’m also convinced this bill does not yet do the job that we need to do. “

Tallian has been an advocate for cannabis reform in Indiana for years and has authored bills related to marijuana since 2011. She was not the only cannabis reform advocate who chose to vote no on SB 516. Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, was one of three ‘no’ votes in the House, saying it would make legal businesses illegal and force them to close their doors.

“I want to know why we would be criminalizing a federally legal product,” said Lucas. “We are criminalizing a federally legal product. I think we’re at a place right now, we’re putting politics above policy.”

Rep. Dave Heine, R-New Haven, disagreed, saying that producing hemp would help farmers and the state economy.

“This is a farm bill; this is an agricultural bill,” said Heine.  “If we don’t pass this, we are really hurting our farmers in the state of Indiana, and we are the Garden of Eden to raise hemp.”

Indiana is well behind neighboring state Kentucky when it comes to the hemp industry. Kentucky hemp processors reported nearly $58 million in gross product sales last year, compared with nearly $17 million in 2017.

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