Brianna Meyer, Indiana Daily Student – Indiana Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, announced Oct. 18 his desire to allow Indiana farmers to have the opportunity to grow hemp.
Industrial hemp is a plant that can be processed into a variety of oils, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper and fuel.
Since 1958, hemp has been illegal to grow under federal law for its close relation to marijuana.
“The federal government lumped industrial hemp with marijuana, outlawing the production of either,” Young said in a press release. “In their shortsightedness, the federal government ignored the safety and economic potential of industrial hemp.”
Young cited several reasons why hemp would be an excellent cash crop for Indiana farmers.
It is hardy, naturally resistant to pests and is ready for harvest in just 120 days, Young said in the release.
Young also said hemp production is more environmentally friendly than traditional textiles and plastics because it is 100 percent biodegradable.
“Ten states, including Kentucky and West Virginia, have recognized the agricultural, economic and environmental benefits of promoting the growth and marketing of industrial hemp,” Young said in the release.
“I believe that hemp needs to be a controlled crop with the appropriate oversight of the Department of Agriculture to ensure that marijuana is not grown with the hemp.”
Hemp’s resemblance to marijuana is a major reason why law enforcement agencies are opposed to its legalization.
Kentucky passed a law legalizing hemp in April despite strong opposition from state police who were concerned that industrial hemp would provide cover for illegal marijuana growing operations.
On the opposite side of the issue, Indiana House Enrolled Act 1006 passed through the general assembly earlier this year.
The bill will toughen penalties for low-level cannabis offenders, according to an April hemp.org news release.
According to the release, Gov. Mike Pence approved of the new legislation.
Indiana State Police public information officer David Bursten said it is not the agency’s place to comment on the legislature’s actions.
“It is our function to enforce, to the best of our ability, the laws enacted by the elected legislators,” Bursten said.
Because growing industrial hemp is still illegal under federal law, states must negotiate with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to grow hemp.
Colorado plans on issuing licenses to hemp growers beginning next year.
Dan Drexler, the Indiana state chairman of the Libertarian Party, is supporting Sen. Young in his efforts to legalize hemp.
“There are no elected libertarians in Indiana’s legislature, but we are publicly advocating for issues that the party supports,” Drexler said.
Drexler said the party is taking Young’s proposal one step further by advocating for the decriminalization of marijuana for adults.
“A Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized,” Drexler said. “It’s something the legislature needs to take a closer look at.”
Follow reporter Brianna Meyer on Twitter @brimmeyer.