INDIANAPOLIS – Efforts to help Indiana gain federal approval to grow and sell industrial hemp have died this legislative session, the bill's author said Wednesday.
"There's some disagreement about just how close it is to marijuana," said Rep. Don Lehe, R-Brookston. "We just need more clarification about the differences."
While the measure – which would have excluded industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana – drew no opposition in the House, it lost momentum in the Senate. Opponents expressed concerns about relaxing Indiana's marijuana laws – even though industrial hemp differs from medical or recreational marijuana plants in THC content and appearance.
Lehe said testimony from the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council prompted Senate committee members to strip the major provisions of the bill earlier this month and instead require further study on the issue this summer.
Hemp isn't intoxicating, unlike its illegal cousin marijuana. It's used for legal products including clothing, rope, canvas and oil, but cannot be grown under federal law without permission. Recent studies also show that certain chemicals extracted from hemp have medicinal benefits with few side effects.
An Indiana law passed last year legalized the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp, pending approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Supporters said the clarification in the latest bill would help speed up the state's request for federal approval, which is still pending. The proposal would have also authorized promotion of hemp and offered legal protection for people who use hemp substances for medical treatments.
A federal law signed by President Obama in 2014 included a provision that allows institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp. Nineteen states, including Indiana, have established laws that provide for hemp pilot studies and production under the law's conditions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Lehe said he may bring up the issue again next year, depending on the results of the study.