As marijuana bills die, hemp legislation raises concerns

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Hoosiers hoping to legally light a joint will have to keep waiting now that legislation that would legalize marijuana in the state has been left behind in the Indiana Statehouse. 

Despite previous optimism among pro-marijuana lawmakers for the issue to have a higher chance of success during the 2019 legislative session, numerous marijuana-related bills faltered, most not even receiving a hearing in committee to move forward before the deadline for bills to be approved had passed. 

Longtime proponent of marijuana legalization Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Hills, said at this point in the session, her marijuana legislation is dead.

“Do I think anything else will happen? … absolutely not,” Tallian told Indiana Lawyer. “I don’t have any other vehicle to talk about it.”

However, Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said he won’t quit pushing for marijuana, even if that means he goes down swinging.

I want to wait until the Speaker gavels out,” Lucas said. “Nothing’s over until sine die.”

Although both lawmakers’ bills dealing with marijuana failed to move forward this session, the illegal drug’s recently vindicated cousin, hemp, made strides in the Indiana Senate last week.

Senate Bill 516, authored by Republican Sens. Randy Head and Blake Doriot, passed the Senate floor nearly unanimously, with Tallian as the only senator to vote against the bill. 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, making hemp an agricultural crop alongside commodity crops such corn and soybeans.

Additionally, 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.

Tallian said she was reluctant to vote yes on the measure, yet said the legislation would at least would make Indiana’s situation better than what it is currently. However, after the bill received amendments to its advisory committee and added language defining “smokable hemp,” Tallian said she had to vote no.

Specifically, the bill included language defining “smokable hemp” as a product containing no more than .03 percent THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana that can produce a “high.” Further, the bill would criminalize the use of smokable hemp via inhalation, smoke, or vapor to a Class C misdemeanor. Any dealing of smokable hemp would result in a Class A misdemeanor.

That provision causes Tallian and Lucas serious concern considering Indiana’s recent legalization of cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD. Derived from marijuana and hemp, CBD oil is believed to have therapeutic benefits without the compounds that make users high. Under current Indiana law, CBD oil products must contain less than .03 percent of THC.

“But I think that includes most of the CBD oil, because anything can be vaped or inhaled,” Tallian said of SB 516’s smokable hemp provision. “I think they made a mess they didn’t intend to make.

Co-author of a bill that legalized CBD oil Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, was unavailable to comment on the issue by IL deadline Tuesday.

Tallian noted she spoke with the authors of SB 516, and that an attempt to make CBD oil products illegal was not the intention. But Lucas said he worries about what this could mean for Hoosier business owners. He said he is currently unsure of whether he will make a move to address the issue once the bill reaches the House.

“I want to talk to people and see what we can do,” Lucas said. “But definitely the way it stands right now, we’re going to put Hoosier business owners out of business because it meets the less than .03 percent threshold.”

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