IN: Does Industrial Hemp Hold Promise For Hoosiers

Photo Credit: Lindsey Bartlett

Mark Boyer, a sixth-generation farmer in Miami, plants corn and wheat crops but also sunflowers.

The sunflower byproducts are sold through his Health Hoosier Oil as salad dressing and as a protein source for livestock.

Boyer would like to diversify by growing industrial hemp and extracting its oil as a nutritional supplement.

Industrial hemp could be a legitimate commodity under bills introduced in the Indiana General Assembly.

“I believe industrial hemp holds great promise for Hoosier farmers,” Boyer said. “The potential economic impact of Indiana industrial hemp cultivation goes way beyond my own products. Hemp is an extremely fast-growing crop, producing more fiber per acre than any other source, 250 percent more than cotton and six times more than flax but also being more drought resistant than either crop.”

Among the legislation at the Statehouse, House Bill 1137, authored by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, would expand industrial hemp beyond its current role as a research product.

His bill, which was heard in committee on Thursday, is supported by agriculture researchers, farmers and the Indiana Farm Bureau, hoping to turn industrial hemp into a Hoosier commodity.

Industrial hemp is estimated to be used in more than 25,000 products, including textiles and furniture, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Under federal regulations, states can regulate industrial hemp pilot programs. Indiana grew 10 acres in 2017 for research through Purdue University, said Justin Swanson of the Indiana Hemp Industries Association.

Lucas’ bill is based on the Agricultural Act of 2014 that defines how industrial hemp can be grown. The act limits a plant’s tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration to 0.3 percent; THC produces the high in marijuana.

Many people are confused between industrial hemp and marijuana.

“A lot of people are reluctant to feel OK with hemp because of the association. But industrial hemp is no more marijuana than a Chihuahua is a wolf,” Dr. Matthew Andry, a family practitioner and associate professor at the IU School of Medicine.

Lucas said, “My intent of this bill is to play off the definition of the federal farm bill, which recognizes the hemp plant and its byproducts. Cannabidiol is one of those byproducts but I don’t want to confuse the issue because I know of the situation that the state is going through right now.”

Last year, the General Assembly approved the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil to treat epilepsy. Those patients must be registered with the Indiana State Department of Health. About 50 people have enrolled.

However, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has said that while those patients can use CBD, its sale is illegal. There are efforts in the legislature to clarify the language.

Perhaps complicating the issue is the drug Epidiolex, a CBD product used to treat childhood epilepsy. The drug is undergoing clinical investigations by GW Pharmaceuticals of Carlsbad, Calif.

The company’s research has been cited in recent letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning online firms that they shouldn’t sell CBD as a dietary supplement while the research is ongoing.

“CBD soon will likely be something not as available,” Andry said. “Because of that drug, the FDA soon will be going after companies that have products with just CBD alone. They probably will not be available in the next one or two years.”

“However, hemp oil has existed long before Epidiolex and GW. The way our FDA patents work, it will still be available,” Andry added.

Lucas was preparing an amendment to his bill to replace references strictly to CBD.