By Paige Clark
Industrial hemp grown in Indiana could provide another option for Hoosiers farmers under legislation that a Senate committee passed Friday.
Senate Bill 357 - authored by Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown - would allow farmers to apply for a license to grow and produce industrial hemp.
"Industrial hemp has over 50,000 uses," Young said. "The land that we've got here will produce hemp very well."
Young named several uses for industrial hemp including medicines, textiles, ropes, paper products, plastics, automotive factory material, and building materials.
Two Hoosier mothers testified in support of the production of hemp for medical purposes. Both women have children with Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that begins in infancy.
"Something as simple as a plant might help" my son, Mariah Mershon said.
"The results are powerful, the stories are dramatic," said Dr. Trent Jones a lobbyist for Parents for Cannabidol. "It is an immediate, dramatic medicine for children that have drug-resisted epilepsy."
CBD is a compound in cannabis that has medical effects without the psychoactive effects commonly associated with marijuana.
Mershon said her son has suffered from more than 50 seizures in a four-hour time span.
"What's wine without the alcohol? It's just grapes. What's this cannabis without the THC? It's just a fern," Mershon said. "We would really like the opportunity to help our son."
Bob Craft, a spokesman for the North American Industrial Hemp Council, addressed the concern that industrial hemp could be used to produce marijuana or other psychoactive drugs.
"They're two different plants, two different products," Craft said. "It would make more sense to prohibit poppy-seed dressing in the grocery store because poppy can be used to produce opium than it does to outlaw industrial hemp."
Industrial hemp contains less than .03 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol - known as THC - which is below the federal limit and does not cause a "mind-altering" sensation.
The bill "could provide a new source of income for our farmers, allow new industries to develop in our state and go a long way towards protecting and improving Indiana's beautiful and natural environment," said Neil Smith, a lobbyist for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Smith said hemp was commonly grown in Indiana until 1937.
"Hemp in Indiana would provide thousands of new, sustainable and well-paying jobs. It will provide a new tax base for state and local governments," he said. "Hoosier farmers would profit greatly from hemp."
Smith said Canadian farmers earn $200-$250 net profit per acre form growing hemp, according to Seed and Grain Sales.
Greg Bomba, an executive at Flexform Technologies, said his company uses the natural fibers of hemp in the transportation and office furniture industries.
Young said that automotive factory materials made from industrial hemp are 20 times stronger and lighter than steel. Also, these parts will not "rust, crush or burn."
Bomba's company imports 2,200 tons of industrial hemp annually because it's the "perfect product."
However, because hemp is not locally grown, Bomba said his company spends $600,000-$1 million to import it from countries like China, Canada and India.
"(Hemp) is being used, it's being imported into the state," Craft said, "The market exists in Indiana."
Ten states have already passed legislation to legalize the production of industrial hemp.
"I see no reason why Indiana shouldn't be one of the leaders in hemp," said Jack Cain, another lobbyist for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "I think our soil is a little more fertile than Kentucky. "
Officials in Kentucky recently said they want their state to be the nation's leader in the hemp industry.
"This is a great bill." Cain said, "It will generate jobs and a lot of activity from an economic standpoint."
The Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee members passed the bill to a standing ovation.
"I love you guys," shouted an excited bystander when the bill passed 7-0. "You just made a bunch of Hoosiers happy."
Paige Clark is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.