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Local hemp farmer, others, sue state and governor

Hemp farmers claim Indiana law violates 2018 Farm Bill

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GROWTH — Austin Rhodus, right, conducts business on his Russiaville hemp farm. Rhodus recently joined six other companies in a lawsuit, claiming a statewide restriction on smokable hemp violates federal law.

A Russiaville hemp grower joined six other companies in suing the state and the governor, claiming a statewide restriction on smokable hemp violates federal law.

Earlier this year, Indiana paved the way for farmers to begin growing hemp on a large scale. Among the early adopters was DREEM Nutrition, which recently began growing hemp and manufacturing hemp-derived products at its Russiaville-based facility. But now the company, and others, are suing the state and Gov. Eric Holcomb for curtailing the industry through the same law that legalized hemp in Indiana.

On May 2, Governor Eric Holcomb signed into law Senate-Enrolled Act 516. The newly-minted state law allowed Indiana to adopt the federal 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and reclassified the plant for commercial uses. This also created the hemp licensing framework within Indiana for growers and sellers. However, tucked within SEA 516 was a restriction on a specific form of hemp, making it a crime to manufacture, finance, deliver, or possess the plant in its smokable form. Doing so amounts to a class A misdemeanor.

In order to fight the restriction, Russiaville-based DREEM Nutrition joined six other hemp-based companies and the Midwest Hemp Council in suing the state and Gov. Holcomb in an effort to rescind the law, which they claim violates the 2018 Farm Bill. And, with the law having taken effect on July 1, the hemp representatives are seeking a preliminary injunction against the state.

The lawsuit, filed on June 28 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, hones in on the differences between SEA 516 and the 2018 Farm Bill. The suit claims the 2018 Farm Bill effectively decriminalized hemp and “broadly defined hemp as including all products derived from hemp, so long as the THC concentration is not more than 0.3 percent.” Additionally, the federal law “prohibits states from blocking the transportation of hemp and hemp products produced in accordance with the 2018 Farm Bill.”

But SEA 516’s exemption for smokable hemp, argued the hemp growers and manufacturers, both illegally defines smokable hemp and unlawfully restricts the transportation of hemp through the Indiana.

SEA 516, argued the hemp producers, “conflicts with federal law by impermissibly narrowing the federal definition of hemp and criminalizing the manufacture, financing, delivery, or possession of smokable hemp despite federal laws declaring all hemp derivatives to be legal.”

To rectify the issue, DREEM Nutrition and the other plaintiffs in the suit are asking the Southern District Court to “declare portions of SEA 516 criminalizing the manufacture or possession of smokable hemp null and void because they are preempted by federal law and violate the United States Constitution.”

Additionally, the plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction against SEA 516, arguing the law poses a “threat of irreparable harm” to the businesses. The businesses, claimed the suit, “have no such adequate legal remedy because monetary losses are unknowable, and potential criminal sanctions constitute irreparable harm. In fact, a misdemeanor drug conviction for smokable hemp would prevent any plaintiff from obtaining a license to grow or handle legal hemp in Indiana.”

State Rep. Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo) was among the cosponsors of the bill through the Indiana House, and he said the restriction was put into place due to various lawmakers’ discomfort over smokable hemp and pointed to the bill’s large support throughout the Indiana legislature as a sign of success for the legislation.

“We tried to pass a bill that aligned as closely as possible, and there were things that made people uncomfortable with smokable hemp,” said Karickhoff. “

So, we put tighter restrictions on those provisions and that’s what had to happen to make the bill pass. When the bill passed to everybody, it seemed a clear victory.”

State Sen. James Buck (R-Kokomo) was also a cosponsor of the bill. He did not return a request for comment.