Cannabis cousins marijuana and hemp are hard to tell apart by looks alone, but hemp notably doesn't contain as much tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component of cannabis that produces a high.
A Purdue professor and student are part of a majority of the Indiana agriculture community who believe that hemp could be an important cash crop for Indiana and that it should be legalized.
On Aug. 6, a meeting was held in Lafayette to discuss the future of hemp in Indiana. The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources is made up of state representatives and senators, industrial farmers, Purdue professors and students.
Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, was legalized in Indiana by Gov. Eric Holcomb on March 21. According to the website for Purdue's Industrial Hemp Project, "It is important to stress that industrial hemp production is solely for the production of fiber or oilseed. Although CBD cannot provide the 'high' associated with marijuana, interest in other CBDs for pharmacological purposes remains high."
Market-ready CBD is produced from hemp. The current legislation allows for the end product of hemp cultivation to be sold in Indiana, but prohibits the planting, harvesting and manufacturing to take place within the state.
Ronald Turco, the head of the agronomy department at Purdue and an attendee of the committee meeting in August, believes hemp is an important step for the state.
"Industrial hemp is the 'next small grain' but it can also be used as a source of oil, fiber and feed and the flower can be used to produce CBD," he said via email. "Indiana is missing out on a novel farm-level income stream."
Currently, the process through which researchers in Indiana can conduct research with hemp requires several steps, according to a document from the office of the Indiana State Chemist:
"The growing or cultivating of industrial hemp is allowed under the laws of the State in which such institution of higher education or State department of agriculture is located and such research occurs."
The protocol is overseen by the Drug Enforcement Agency at the federal level, as the agency has "concerns about how industrial hemp may impact the illicit marijuana industry," according to the Industrial Hemp Project website. There are eight steps involved in getting approval for industrial hemp research, including an application, proof of licensure, a DEA inspection of the research site and the researcher in question paying a fee for their own background check.
In the minutes of the August meeting, Turco is cited as having spoken on "the difficulty of conducting research under the current regulatory climate."
Trevor Hardwick, a junior in the College of Agriculture, who also attended the committee meeting, spoke of his work on Purdue's industrial hemp pilot project. He believes that the crop could allow new farmers to break into the agriculture business, which consists mainly of families that have been farming for decades or centuries.
"Most farms have been around for generations, and pass the pitchfork down their family tree," he said via email. "This plant, on its own, is profitable enough to allow an individual to (successfully start) a small farm from scratch — as long as he or she can be a successful farmer."
Hardwick said the applications of hemp are vast enough that it would be easier to list what cannot be produced from it.
"While medicinal CBD is the main commodity right now (in states where marijuana is illegal), hemp products range from food products to textiles, and fiberglass to hempcrete (yes, it's a real thing)," he said.
Other members in favor of legalizing the growth of industrial hemp at the August meeting included representatives from the Indiana Hemp Industries Association, the Indiana Farm Bureau and private farms.
You can contact Christian Cambron via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cdcambron.