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Legislature must deal with hemp laws carefully

TAGS: Regulatory
studio023/Getty Images industrial hemp
REGULATIONS FIRST: Indiana regulators and lawmakers need to act before anyone begins growing industrial hemp in Indiana.
Just because the 2018 Farm Bill legalizes growing hemp doesn’t mean the crop is ready to be grown in Indiana.

The day President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, some thought they would be growing industrial hemp in Indiana in 2019. The Indiana Office of State Chemist quickly issued a press release to advise potential growers that several roadblocks must be removed for clear sailing in Indiana.

We’re thankful OISC regulators put brakes on over-enthusiastic supporters ready to slap seed in the ground. It was a dose of reality and a reminder as to what must happen before hemp can be grown successfully in Indiana.

Perhaps industrial hemp will prove to be an economic benefit for some producers. Our best guess is that it might be a niche crop with niche markets. Time may prove us wrong.

What must happen
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is several steps ahead on growing industrial hemp because Kentucky legalized growing and processing the crop, under tight regulations, a couple of years ago. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture was proactive, partly because hemp fits with farmers who previously grew tobacco. According to KDA figures, over 3,000 acres were grown there in 2017, and over 6,000 acres in 2018. Check out what Kentucky does on KDA’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program website.

Industrial hemp can be used for grain, fiber and oil. Anecdotal reports indicate most growers in Kentucky so far produce for the oil market.

Back in Indiana, Don Robison, Indiana’s state seed administrator within OISC, says he’s spending much of his time working on regulations related to industrial hemp. These regulations must be in place before hemp can be commercially grown and processed, Robison confirms. He believes commercial cultivation could start here in 2020.

The Legislature is considering bills related to legalizing and regulating industrial hemp. Senate Bill 516 has the most traction so far. It would establish an Indiana hemp advisory committee to provide advice to the state seed commissioner and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. It also aligns definitions of industrial hemp with federal definitions, establishes requirements for negligent violations, sets procedures for civil penalties and establishes processes for applying to USDA to grow hemp. The legislation would require sellers to be licensed. Licensing is essential in Kentucky’s program.

Indiana Farm Bureau supports this legislation.

Safeguards are critical
We applaud regulators and lawmakers for remaining cautious as they establish procedures for commerce related to industrial hemp. It isn’t marijuana, but it’s in the same family, and the close ties require caution.

Some may insist growing industrial hemp has no connection to potential legalization of marijuana in Indiana someday. We disagree. That’s why we believe caution is prudent.

Look at the Hoosier lottery. When it finally gained momentum in the 1980s, supporters insisted it wasn’t connected to betting on horse races or gambling casinos. It was an innocent effort to raise money, they said. One beneficiary would be education.

Not a fan of gambling, even I was convinced that if it raised money for education, why not do it? You know how that turned out. My wife and I could be at a horse track and casino within 30 minutes. Laws on gambling grew looser. Indiana still struggles to pay teachers properly.

If industrial hemp means more income for Indiana farmers, pursue it. But it must be done properly. As the old axiom goes, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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