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Hemp bill’s chances growing with Senate passage

February 26, 2019

Farmers hoping to add a new crop to their rotation next planting season just moved closer to that dream, now that the Indiana Senate voted nearly unanimously to pass an agricultural hemp bill.  

Senate Bill 516, authored by Republican Sens. Randy Head and Blake Doriot, passed a Senate floor vote 47-1 Monday evening with no discussion and now awaits further action in the House. The measure would realign Indiana’s definition of hemp to comply with federal guidelines issued at the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill in December. That federal bill specifically removed hemp from the Schedule 1 drug list and now considers it as an agricultural crop, leaving its cousin marijuana still on the controlled list.

Hoosier farmers interested in growing agricultural hemp would have to abide by certain procedures listed under SB 516 in order to grow it legally in the state. If they don’t register as a hemp grower with the Indiana State Chemist and follow regulatory guidelines offered by the state, their crop could be considered an illegal plot of marijuana instead of hemp.

SB 516 would establish the Indiana Hemp Advisory Committee to provide advice to the Indiana State Seed Commissioner regarding Indiana hemp laws, policies and fees. Under the amended bill, Head said that advisory committee would consist of regulators instead of members of the hemp industry. Such regulators include the chairman of the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission or its designee, along with two appointees by the governor, one of whom must be an elected sheriff. The chairman of the advisory committee would also be appointed by the governor.  

SB 516 also included several law enforcement provisions that Head said would give farmers the maximum freedom to grow their hemp crop while making sure abusers of the program receive a “maximum chance to get caught.” That means anyone who knowingly or intentionally grows, handles or sells hemp without the required license would commit a Class A misdemeanor. Anyone in possession of smokable hemp would commit a Class C misdemeanor.

The 2018 Farm Bill allows states to be primary regulators for any hemp production that occurs within its borders, as long as they set up their own programs to do so. If they don’t, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will do it for them. But Head said that wasn’t going to be the case for Indiana.

“I think Hoosiers know best and what is best for us,” Head said.

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