Rhodus

Austin Rhodus (left) stands with reps from the Indiana Hemp Industry Association at the Statehouse.

Hoosier advocates for industrial hemp celebrated some early victories this legislative session, but they also endured what some viewed to be a defeat.

Members of the Indiana Hemp Industries Association (IHIA) are nearing in on one of their big goals for this year’s legislative session: legalizing CBD oil that is manufactured utilizing industrial hemp. Senate Bill 52 and House Bill 1214 both could make that goal a reality, and it appears a House-Senate conference committee may work out differences between the bills before sending them to the governor’s desk. If passed, it could be legal as soon as March to buy and sell CBD oil containing low levels of THC.

That would be a victory for advocates of the product and those who look to utilize it. But another measure, House Bill 1137, is meeting more resistance. That bill would allow industrial hemp to be grown in Indiana and for products from the plant to be manufactured in the state as well.

Initially, the bill was passed unanimously by the House, but after reaching the Senate the matter has stalled. The Senate pushed the bill into a study committee by voice vote last Thursday.

Opinions on that action are split by industry advocates.

To Austin Rhodus, a member of the IHIA and owner of CBD oil distributor Dreem Nutrition, the resistance is nonsensical.

Rhodus expressed frustration at the fact that the state seems poised to allow the purchase and sale of CBD oil, but it’s balking at allowing for industrial growth.

“It’s basically forcing importation. We have to import it,” said Rhodus. “We have an operation out in Oregon where we go farm, and we have a lab and everything. It forces me to go out, make that product in Oregon, and bring it back here to Indiana to sell it when I could just do everything here and hire Indiana citizens and contract Indiana farmers.”

Similarly, IHIA founder Jamie Campbell Petty expressed frustration at the friction being directed at HB 1137.

According to Petty, the Agriculture Act of 2014 opened the door for the study of industrial hemp. However, she argued the measure left a pilot program to study industrial hemp, established through Purdue University, as toothless due to a lack of financial support.

While states such as Kentucky are succeeding in industrial hemp production, Petty put hope in HB 1137. The bill would have created more measures to expand production in the state, such as by allowing 50 licenses to grow the crop, but feared further delay would put Indiana even more behind states where the crop is succeeding.

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“If we lose this next year it’s going to be very harmful, and it will be difficult for us to catch up after that,” said Petty.

Moreso, Pett argued that industrial hemp is a product that would greatly benefit Hoosier farmers at a time when soybean and corn production are less profitable.

“I think it’s important that as Hoosiers, with our strong agriculture background, that whether we’re talking hemp, or hops, or produce, that we become active in supporting diversified income streams for our farms, for supporting local businesses and local farmers, and make that a priority over external imports,” said Petty.

This year also has represented a more significant push for the measure. More recently, Indiana Farm Bureau has moved to support allowing Hoosier farmers to grow industrial hemp.

Justin Schneider, the director of state government relations for Indiana Farm Bureau, echoed Petty’s thoughts on the need for industrial hemp growth in Indiana given the market for corn and soybean production.

However, he also viewed the study committee for HB 1137 as a step forward where questions by policymakers can be addressed.

“There are folks looking for comfort that the farm bill authorizes what it authorizes,” said Schneider. “I think it does. I’m not too concerned about that, but there are some people that need some reassurances from an agency standpoint.

“The other question is how do you do it? How do you staff it up? How do you fund this? Even if you set up fees for the program to cover the cost, well, you still have to get a program up and running before you can recover those fees.”

Hopefully if the door is closed for now, it won’t remain closed once those questions are answered.

Prior to last Thursday’s news about HB 1137 being pushed to committee, both Petty and Rhodus expressed concern that resistance on the matter was coming from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office. Those fears were at least partially confirmed after the Senate’s voice vote, and media reports indicate House Speaker Brian Bosma said Holcomb had asked for the bill to be given to a study committee.

When asked for comment, governor’s office representative Stephanie Wilson said, “Gov. Holcomb is not opposed to the idea. He just wants to make sure we do it right. That’s why he supports a thorough study of the issue first.”