Industrial hemp law won't change much 

By Paige Clark
The state could be waiting several months to implement a new law that allows the research and production of industrial hemp, even though Gov. Mike Pence signed the legislation last March.

That's because state officials need federal approval to begin growing and researching the cousin of marijuana, which has no psychedelic affect but can be used to make products including rope, textiles, pharmaceuticals and auto parts.

The production of industrial hemp "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.

Senate Bill 357 - authored by Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown - allows 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."

The bill authorized the Office of Indiana State Chemist and Seed Commissioner to pursue necessary permits and other authorizations from the federal government to begin hemp production in Indiana.

On Feb. 7, President Barack Obama signed into law the Farm Bill of 2014, which allows production of hemp for research and pilot programs in states where hemp is legal. Robert Waltz, the Indiana seed commissioner, said he's asked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give Indiana permission to move forward.

Advocates of the law say hemp is a natural crop for Hoosiers and was commonly grown in Indiana until 1937.

Waltz said that because hemp has not been grown in Indiana in more than 70 years, research is necessary to determine which types will grow well in the Midwest and meet market demands.

"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 from growing hemp.

"We support farmers, and part of that support is helping them find new markets for the products they cultivate," said Andy Dietrick, director of public relations for the Indiana Farm Bureau. Industrial hemp "is just another avenue that may become available for Indiana farmers and it may become profitable for them to get into."

Dietrick said there is no market for industrial hemp yet, and it is just "speculation" whether the industry could be more profitable to farmers.

Also, Dietrick said among the Farm Bureau's members, he's not aware of anyone who's ready to start farming hemp.

Paige Clark is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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