INDIANAPOLIS - A state Senate committee has approved a bill that would allow Indiana farmers to grow industrial hemp crops.
Supporters clapped and cheered Friday after the Senate committee on agriculture and natural resources voted 7-0 in favor of the bill.
"I think we've got a tremendous opportunity to develop a new agriculture commodity. One that has in the past been used in Indiana. We were a large grower of industrial hemp during World War II," the bill’s author, Sen. Richard Young, D-District 47, said.
If passed by the full House and Senate and signed by the governor, Indiana still would need to apply for a federal permit to grow the crop.
Hemp is similar to marijuana but has a much smaller amount of the latter's psychoactive compound.
Industrial hemp is used to make paper, clothing, building materials and car parts.
Elkhart company FlexForm Technologies imports 2,200 tons of hemp each year, paying up to a million dollars in shipping costs alone. The CEO would like to be able to buy it from Indiana farmers instead.
Seventh-generation farmer Pam Patrick believes legalizing industrial hemp could save some family farms.
"Right now they're buying it from China. Why buy it from China when I can go less than 100 miles south and raise it amongst another marginal crop," Patrick said.
A doctor and several mothers spoke in favor of industrial hemp production for its possible medicinal effects on a rare seizure disorder.
The bill also would declassify industrial hemp as marijuana in Indiana.
Kentucky passed similar legislation to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp crops last year.