Hemp bill hits wall, faces scrutiny on flower language

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A controversial amendment to legalize the sale and use of hemp flower in Indiana has contributed to the growing uncertainty of provisions in a bill meant to enable farmers to legally grow the country’s newly legal commodity crop.

Senate Bill 516 would establish the Indiana Hemp Advisory Committee to provide advice to the Indiana state seed commissioner regarding Indiana hemp laws. It would also realign Indiana’s definition of hemp to comply with federal guidelines, which now recognizes hemp as an agricultural crop and removes it from the controlled substances list.

But an earlier version of the bill raised concerns https://www.theindianalawyer.com/articles/49631-as-marijuana-bills-die-hemp-legislation-raises-concerns among hemp advocates and cannabidiol business owners with language that criminalized “smokable hemp,” or the use or sale the hemp flower. “Smokable hemp” is defined as a product containing no more than 0.03 percent THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana that can produce a “high.”

Under that version, the use of smokable hemp via inhalation, smoke, or vapor would result in a Class C misdemeanor. Any dealing of smokable hemp would result in a Class A misdemeanor.

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, last week proposed to reverse that language with what he called a “jobs amendment," which would instead legalize the selling and use of hemp flower. Lucas, who argued hemp flower is already legal under the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, advocated that keeping it legal in Indiana would promote job security for Hoosier business owners who have invested in selling CBD products.

“Why do we want to go backwards?” Lucas asked. “We shouldn’t.”

His suggestion stretched party lines in the Indiana House of Representatives, causing confusion among lawmakers as to how they should vote on the proposal. The tension was reflected in a 49-47 vote that narrowly passed Lucas’ amendment.

Members of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee agreed the legislation is a jobs bill but focused instead on how legalizing hemp flower could negatively impact farmers.

“This is a jobs bill for farmers, and I hate to see an amendment like this kill such an important bill,” said Rep. Beau Baird, R-Greencastle, during debate in the House.

Opponents argued law enforcement cannot differentiate between the smell and appearance of hemp from its illegal relative, marijuana, and that the addition of Lucas’ proposal would deter members of the Senate who favored the prior bill from moving it forward.

Those concerns were solidified when members of the Senate dissented from accepting SB 516 as amended and agreed to a conference committee to further address concerns. But Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, said the sole issue of legalizing hemp flower is just one component of the entire bill — which she says is a mess in and of itself. 

“To focus on just that issue is like picking on one tree out of the forest,” Tallian said. “It loses sight of the big picture, and the big picture is we have a mess and the door has been opened.”

Tallian, who was appointed as a Senate conferee, has suggested that Indiana create a cannabis compliance commission to regulate all forms of legal cannabis in Indiana, including industrial hemp and low-THC hemp extract.

However, no action or agreements were made on SB 516 as of Thursday. Sen. Randy Head said the committee will continue to seek a solution that will help Indiana farmers and get the bill signed by Governor Eric Holcomb.

Last year, Gov. Holcomb said he didn’t think Indiana was ready for an industrial hemp bill. However, earlier in the 2019 legislative session, he offered his support for SB 516.

Despite the bill’s controversy, Tallian said she thinks the bill will still make it this session, but that hinges on what Holcomb’s office will agree to.

“That’s what is driving this right now,” she said. “I am very convinced that it’s the governor’s office that’s calling the shots on this.”

Tallian and Lucas authored bills this session that proposed marijuana legalization. No such bills received a committee hearing. Indiana continues to be in the minority of states that have not legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes. Only 17 states continued to outlaw marijuana in late 2018, according to Governing.com.

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