The Senate voted unanimously Monday to pass legislation that would legalize the farming and production of industrial hemp in Indiana.
Senate Bill 357 - authored by Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown - now moves to the House for consideration.
The bill does not affect the state's marijuana laws. Instead, it legalizes the production of one of its botanical cousins. Hemp is a multipurpose crop that can be used in the production of textiles, foods, plastics, building materials and medicines but it doesn't have enough tetrahydrocannabinol - - known as THC - for someone to use it as a drug.
"You could not ingest enough of this material to get high in any way - to have hallucinogenic benefits," Young said. "What you would do is get sick."
Hemp can be harvested just 120 days after planting and it doesn't require any certain climate to grow. It is a very hardy plant and naturally resistant to pests, eliminating the need for pesticides and herbicides, Young told lawmakers.
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.
"Indiana was once a leader in the production of industrial hemp," said Young. "This measure will reopen a sector of the Indiana agricultural economy that will greatly benefit the state."
Industrial hemp production is still not authorized by federal law. But a recent version of the federal farm bill 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.
Ten states - including Kentucky - have taken steps to legalize hemp production.
In Indiana, SB 357 would put the Office of the Indiana State Chemist and Seed Commissioner at Purdue University in charge overseeing hemp production - in cooperation with the Indiana State Police. Farmers interested in growing hemp would be required to obtain a license and would be subject to periodic inspections.