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Indiana lawmakers pass bill that would overcome ban on flowers

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Lawmakers in the state of Indiana’s lower house have passed a bill that would legalize hemp flowers, reversing rules under the state’s current hemp law enacted in 2019.

The measure, House Bill 1224, was passed by the Indiana State Assembly last week. It would effectively reverse a state ban on smokable hemp that is currently being challenged in federal court by the Midwest Hemp Council, an industry group, and other petitioners. The bill also would repeal a rule that limits the sale of hemp flowers to licensed Indiana processors.

Flower demand ‘strong’

“The flower is the most lucrative part of the plant. There is a strong demand for it,” State Rep. Sean Eberhart, who filed the bill, told the Indianapolis Star. “This bill will legalize it, and allow our farmers and retailers and our consumers to use and grow that product.”

But prosecutors and police if say hemp flower were legalized in Indiana, it would make it impossible for law enforcement officers to tell if a cannabis substance is legal or illegal. Industry representatives say a quick roadside test developed at Purdue University could help officers tell if a bud is marijuana or hemp.

Three bills that would legalize hemp flower have been filed this year in the Indiana General Assembly, but only HB 1224 is still alive. The proposed law must still be passed the Indiana State Senate and signed into law by the governor.

Fields expand

Indiana farmers have been growing hemp since the federal government’s hemp pilot program started in 2014. But the state’s lawmakers banned hemp flowers a year later, and the ban was kept in place when the state’s current hemp law was enacted in 2019. Indiana’s hemp plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in autumn 2020.

Indiana hemp fields grew from 5,300 acres in 2019 to 9,000 acres in 2020, according to state figures. Indoor growing area grew from 500,000 to 1.7 million in the same time period.

New York and California face similar challenges in legalizing the hemp flower. Stakeholders in New York say proposed state hemp rules rules as written would eliminate small hemp farmers and limit future development of the food, beverages and dietary supplements sectors. In addition to banning smokable hemp flowers, California’s proposed law would also outlaw CBD vapes and pens, hemp in beer, wine or spirits, and alcohol-based tinctures. Indiana hemp advocates say legalizing hemp flower could open the door to new markets for the state’s farmers and bring millions of dollars in tax revenue. 

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