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Hemp is legal; Can I grow it in Indiana?

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Standing outside the gates of the derelict Mesker Amphitheatre in September 2015, then, independent mayoral candidate Steve “Woz” Wozniak introduced a then-illegal plant, industrial hemp, as his main campaign platform.

“Evansville will be the first municipality in the world to occupy a building made out of industrial agriculture (hemp),” Wozniak told supporters and media attending his official mayoral candidacy announcement.

Voters rejected Wozniak’s industrial hemp platform later in November. The self-proclaimed serial inventor and entrepreneur received only four percent of the vote in a three-way mayoral race.

Back in 2015, industrial hemp was not well known. Ongoing national media coverage of hemp-based CBD oil, however, helped bring the plant into the mainstream.

And the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, making it a legal crop.

It has more than 20,000 different applications, from medicinal and food grade oils from the seeds to paper and clothing from the fibers.

Industry analysts predict the hemp market could hit more than $20 billion in the next three to five years.

But can hemp advocates and entrepreneurs like Wozniak, or any Hoosier, grow a crop of hemp this season and tap into that market?

Indiana State Chemist and Seed Commissioner Robert Waltz said the answer is not simple.

Get a license

To grow, handle or research hemp, you’ll need a license.

“But first, there needs to be a set of administrative rules,” Waltz said.

Waltz, who’s office is in charge of regulating industrial hemp in Indiana, said the state is required to set up its own oversight program and administration rules for commercial production.

It’s a process that could take up to nine more months.

In addition to licensing, the rules will determine a laundry list of definitions and processes related to hemp production, including fees, seed labeling and requirements, crop site definition and background checks.

“(Background checks) are currently part of the federal law,” Waltz said. “It will also be reflected in the Indiana law, just as it is now practiced in Indiana for (hemp) researchers who have held licenses for the past few years.”

Under the existing law, a licensee needs a clean criminal record for 10 years from drug-related misdemeanors or felonies.

Licensees will also need to meet a minimum required square footage or acreage for growing. Minimum requirements have not been determined.

“You’ll have to grow several acres,” Waltz said. “You won’t be able to grow individual plants.”

Without a license, a hemp grow will be considered marijuana and is subject to Schedule 1 drug laws.

Source your seeds

Growers will need to purchase seeds certified by the Office of Indiana State Chemist, but good luck finding them.

Most hemp seeds for the 2019 growing season are already accounted for.

“Hemp has been a prohibited product in Indiana agriculture for at least 80 years,” Waltz said. “States are beginning to grow hemp for the purpose of seed production, but it will take time to build up enough seeds that can be widely distributed.”

Indiana companies will likely grow and sell certified hemp seed in the future, just not this year.

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Have a plan

Waltz said the most important takeaway for interested industrial hemp growers is to have a plan.

Right now, there are no industrial hemp processors in the state.

But Waltz said growers should start thinking about which markets to enter (CBD, fiber, etc.) and identify hemp varieties best suited for those markets.

“If you’re working with a fiber client, you’ll be working with a different kind of hemp than hemp produced for CBD,” Waltz said. “Even in the CBD area, you’re often not working with seeds. You’re working with propagated clones.

“Those types of things are really important to know now that the markets are not well established and seed sources are restricted. You really need to know what you’re doing.”

Then, find a buyer. Set a price point. Draft a contract.

Waltz’s office advises growers, unless well capitalized, to allow the state’s hemp markets to develop after the administrative rules take effect.

“By 2020, Indiana should have opportunity for people to be growing hemp on a broader scale,” Waltz said.

For more resources on growing industrial hemp in Indiana, visit the Office of Indiana’s State Chemist’s website at oisc.purdue.edu.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: Similar, but not the same

Industrial hemp and marijuana are both species of the Cannabis plant.

The law defines industrial hemp as any part or variety of the Cannabis sativa plant where the plant’s tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, concentration does not exceed three-tenths of one (0.3) percent.

THC is the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. In other words, it’s the stuff that gets you high.

After the farm bill became law, the definition of marijuana is now interpreted as any part or variety of cannabis that is not industrial hemp.

Marijuana is used mainly for recreational and medicinal purposes. Hemp can be used for a wide range of products. CBD is a popular hemp-based product, but hemp can be used to make foods, beverages, personal care products, nutritional supplements, fabrics and textiles, paper, construction materials and other manufactured goods.

Source: “Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity.” Retrieved from the Congressional Research Service.

IndyStar environmental reporter Sarah Bowman contributed to this story.

2019 Indiana Code
Title 35. Criminal Law and Procedure
Article 48. Controlled Substances
Chapter 1. Definitions
35-48-1-19. “Marijuana”

Sec. 19. (a) “Marijuana” means any part of the plant genus Cannabis whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant, including hashish and hash oil; any compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant, its seeds or resin.

(b) The term does not include:

(1) the mature stalks of the plant;

(2) fiber produced from the stalks;

(3) oil or cake made from the seeds of the plant;

(4) any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom);

‘Legal Weed?’ In Indiana? Delta 8 THC Is Everywhere, And Officials Would Prefer To Not Talk About It

The state was one of the first to ban cannabis without a prescription back in 1913, as Eli Lilly cultivated one of the nation’s  biggest marijuana farms . When the federal government cracked down on the plant in 1937, Indiana followed suit with some of the nation’s toughest state-level restrictions.   

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Today, cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance – under state law,  possessing  a  joint could land you in jail for 180 days and set you back $1,000.   

Still, many cannabis connoisseurs have found a hemp-based alternative right here in the Hoosier State with Delta 8 THC.  

DELTA WHAT?  

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical component of cannabis that gets you “high.”  

Normally, when people talk about THC, they’re referring to Delta 9 THC, the plant’s main psychoactive cannabinoid. It’s not the only one, though.   

Delta 8 THC is similar to Delta 9 THC but differs slightly chemically, making it less potent .  Users report similar effects to consuming regular marijuana, just a “lighter high” with less paranoia or anxiety than may come with Delta 9 THC.   

In Bloomington, home of the state’s flagship university, Delta 8 is everywhere. Smoke shops, gas stations and CBD dispensaries advertise Delta 8 edibles, tinctures, vape cartridges and more as legal alternatives to the “real stuff.”  

Andy Manson has owned and operated Stimline Variety, Bloomington’s staple head shop, since 1989. He says he gets adults of all ages – not just students – asking about Delta 8.  

“It seems like we have developed ourselves with the level of products that we sell, that we do have a pretty large clientele coming to us for Delta 8 products,” Manson said.

Stimline Variety’s Walnut St. location in Bloomington advertises Delta 8 pre-rolls, vapes, edibles and more. (Mitch Legan, WTIU/WFIU News)

Many Delta 8 advocates say it provides relief for those who might be medical marijuana patients if the state had such a program. Manson’s surprised by how many customers he gets purchasing Delta 8 products to help with cancer treatments or other chronic issues.  

“It seems to help people who are either having adverse effects with various painkillers or insomnia drugs,” he said. “It just seems to be so helpful to people that we just decided to go with it.”  

He doesn’t deny many are excited about getting a legal alternative to consume recreationally, and understands it has put the state in an unanticipated situation – nobody thought a federal bill aimed at helping farmers would open the door for Delta 8.  

“It’s a gray area,” said Manson. “And we just decided that it was in our best interest to start to go into that area.”  

THE 2018 FARM BILL  

Delta 8 retailers and producers point to the  2018 Farm Bill  as the legal basis for their products.   

The bill allowed for the cultivation of hemp, defined as cannabis plants with concentrations of Delta 9 THC below .3 percent.  

Indiana followed the feds, and  state law  allows “any part of that plant (hemp), including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers.”  

Delta 8 advocates say Indiana Code only mentions Delta 9 THC; therefore, Delta 8 products derived from hemp are good to go.  

“With about two years’ worth of research, we finally came up with our proprietary process for producing our products and started to put them into production,” said Devin Crispin, one of the owners of Bloomington-based Earthshine Labs.  

Earthshine Labs started selling Delta 8 products this spring and is already in 65 stores across the state.   

“When they wrote and approved the Farm Bill, they made anything with over .3 percent Delta 9 THC and its precursors illegal,” Crispin said. “The Farm Bill did not exclusively address Delta 8. And because it does come from a hemp plant, it’s categorized as part of hemp.”  

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Hemp plants at one of the nurseries Crispin works with, Lewis Organics in Brown County. (Alex Paul, WTIU/WFIU News)

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council declined to be interviewed for this story.  

Legislators including House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) chose not to comment when asked if the General Assembly had considered regulating the substance.   

The state office of the Director for Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement referred WTIU/WFIU News to the Indiana State Police, which also declined an interview. But chief public information officer Capt. Ron Galaviz provided this emailed statement:  

“Indiana’s  controlled substance statutes  define Tetrahydrocannabinols (both organic and synthetic) as controlled substances. What this means is that Delta-8 THC products are arguably covered under Title 35 as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance separate from the allowances for hemp-derived products that contain no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC.”  

“The state senators and state representatives that I’ve talked to – which there are several – they’re all arguing trying to figure out the best avenue to go down,” Manson said.   

LACK OF REGULATION CREATES SAFETY CONCERNS  

The Indiana State Department of Toxicology also declined an interview and provided answers via email.   

Forensic toxicologist and quality control coordinator Sheila Arnold said since Delta 8 THC is found in such scant amounts in hemp plants, most Delta 8 on the market is produced by converting CBD distillate. That can lead to safety concerns.  

A June  report  from the U.S. Cannabis Council, which represents licensed cannabis companies, found in a survey of 16 different Delta 8 products that none were in line with the 2018 Farm Bill’s limit on Delta 9 THC, and some contained metals or unknown substances.

Earthshine’s vape cartridges are  advertised  as a safe, “authentic cannabis experience” derived solely from hemp plants, without cutting agents, chemicals or metals. Crispin acknowledges the lack of regulation creates safety concerns, and says he uses state-licensed hemp and has his products tested by a third-party lab to ensure safety and compliance.    

“We would love it if there was a clear, standard operating procedure for what they wanted,” Crispin said. “It only really gets rid of the bad actors and make sure that everything that the consumers get is safe and tested.”  

Manson says he vets the companies Stimline works with and only carries what he considers reputable brands. 

“There’s no structure to organize how it’s being done right now,” he said. “So that’s creating somewhat of chaos. And I’m not sure whether the General Assembly’s trying to figure out ‘Where can we enter in and start to govern it?’ Or ‘How do we govern?’”  

At least  16 states  have moved to regulate or ban Delta 8.   

The Kentucky Hemp association is suing the state after the Kentucky Department of Agriculture released a  memo  saying it considered the compound illegal. Michigan will start regulating Delta 8 products  this fall , while Illinois lawmakers are  discussing  if regulations are necessary.  

Crispin welcomes regulation that would keep Delta 8 products safe for consumers and on store shelves. But he’s wary of state involvement, given its anti-marijuana stance historically.   

He and Manson say cracking down on Delta 8 would prevent people from getting the relief they need and constrict a potential goldmine – the state has been collecting taxes on Delta 8 sales the whole time, and Illinois made $36 million in  out-of-state weed sales  in June 2021 alone.  

“They’ve (the state) just basically made communications with us that they’re aware that it’s there,” Manson said. “They’re doing their studies and their investigation on it.”