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Court grants hemp growers injunction against state law

Hemp wholesalers, retailers argued state law unconstitutionally restricted smokable hemp

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GROWTH — Austin Rhodus, owner of DREEM Nutrition, walks among hemp plants.

A district court granted hemp wholesalers and retailers temporarily relief from a state law they argued unconstitutionally restricted the manufacturing and transportation of smokable hemp.

A group of hemp industry representatives went to battle with the state in June, fighting the very law that allowed Hoosier businesses to sell and create hemp products. However, tucked within that law was a restriction on the manufacture, finance, delivery, and possession of smokable hemp they claimed violated federal law. In that legal dispute, the hemp growers garnered an early victory after a judge granted them a preliminary injunction against the portion of the state law in question.

“Our interest has been and will continue to be encouraging the full economic impact of hemp as a crop in the Midwest,” said Austin Rhodus, the owner of Russiaville-based DREEM Nutrition, which joined other hemp producers in the civil suit. “We came out of the 2019 session with a great bill that had one issue we felt needed some more attention that we simply ran out of time in session to educate on.

“We always have the desire to work alongside government and supportive organizations to move hemp forward as efficiently as possible. Our legislators and the state have done great work over the past sessions to engage Indiana in this agricultural revolution. Our desire is to be solution-focused and help strategize and find answers that both encourage the economic impact of hemp businesses in Indiana as well as continue to help solve the state’s concerns.”

The arguments in the case centered on a provision within Senate Enrolled Act 516, which became effective in July. That bill came on the heels of the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the federal list of controlled substances. SEA 516 essentially enacted the 2018 Farm Bill within Indiana, but it left smokable hemp criminalized.

In June the hemp advocates filed a civil suit targeting the provision within SEA 516 that kept smokable hemp criminal, arguing the 2018 Farm Bill didn’t allow for tighter restrictions than were created by federal law.

More so, the hemp producers and retailers argued that SEA 516 could harm hemp business because criminal convictions for manufacturing, financing, delivering, or possessing smokable hemp would result in those associated with the industry from obtaining a license to grow or handle legal hemp In Indiana for at least 10 years. The hemp advocates also cited potential profit losses from the restriction on smokable hemp.

The United States District Court of Southern Indiana concurred with the hemp retailers. In a preliminary injunction that was granted on Sept. 13, Judge Sarah Barker wrote, “Plaintiffs have shown that, without the relief they seek, they will be subject to irreparable harm in the form of credible threat of criminal sanctions.”

The state argued against the hemp industry, citing difficulty officers could face in differentiating between smokable hemp and marijuana, which remains illegal.

However, the court was unswayed. Barker wrote, “We recognize that the state has a legitimate interest in protecting local law enforcement’s efforts to enforce Indiana’s drug laws and that. As is the case whenever legislative change occurs, the state may face additional challenges during the adjustment period if the possession of smokable hemp is legalized in Indiana … In any event, as plaintiffs argue, the fact that local law enforcement may need to adjust tactics and training in response to changes in federal law is not a sufficient basis for enacting unconstitutional legislation.”

With the preliminary injunction in place against the contested portion of SEA 516, a trial is set to consider the matter in September 2020.