(STAETHOUSE) - A bill to legalize hemp farming in Indiana cleared it's first hurdle.
The state Senate's Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously for the bill that would allow Indiana to follow Kentucky and eight other states in allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp if and when the federal government allows it. The U.S. outlawed hemp production in 1957 because of confusion with hemp's cousin - the marijuana plant.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Richard Young (D, Milltown), who says farms in Southern Indiana were well known for growing hemp in the 1930's and 40's. "It was produced during World War II when the Japanese cut off supplies of materials for rope and things of that nature", Young said. The Senator believes it could be a big cash crop for farmers now. "Hemp can be grown as alternative to subsidy-dependent crops like corn and soy and can provide a safeguard should the market for traditional crops decline."
Critics claim that marijuana growers could easily hide the illegal drug in a field of industrial hemp, largely the reason for hemp's being made illegal. "The information I have got is that you can tell the difference", said Young, who says the Department of Agriculture should easily be able to ensure that farmers are not hiding marijuana.
Supporters say hemp grows quickly - it can be harvested 120 days after planting, and has multiple uses. "Right now, they are using it in petrochemical situations that actually go into automobile manufacturing. It can be used in high quality plastics", said Young. Stores like the Body Shop already sell products containing hemp oil - the U.S. began allowing hemp oil to be imported in 1998.
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