INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana's endless rows of corn and soybeans someday may be planted side by side with fields of tall, slender stalks of cannabis.
The Senate Agriculture Committee on Friday unanimously approved Senate Bill 357, sponsored by state Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, legalizing the cultivation and production of industrial hemp.
"Hemp is good for Indiana's agricultural sector, the environment and the state's economy; it truly can be Indiana's next cash crop," Young said.
Industrial hemp is derived from the same herb that produces marijuana and its appearance is similar to the illegal drug. However, hemp is bred to have low amounts of the psychoactive compound that makes marijuana popular.
Hemp can be used to make food, paper, fuel, clothing and plastics, among other items. It is naturally resistant to pests, reducing the need for pesticides, and its products are biodegradable.
During World War II, Newton County was a center of industrial hemp production, growing plants that were turned into cloth and fiber for the military.
"The fact of the matter is, industrial hemp can be grown in diverse climates and can be harvested just 120 days after planting," Young said. "Hemp is a product that farmers in Indiana could rely on from season to season when corn and soy yields are vulnerable to fluctuating environmental conditions."
Since 1970, federal drug laws have prohibited growing industrial hemp, though a proposal to once again allow it is pending in Congress.
Kentucky is one of 10 states where lawmakers have legalized industrial hemp. The Bluegrass State is seeking a waiver from the federal government to start planting.
The Indiana proposal, which now goes to the full Senate, makes Hoosier hemp production contingent on federal approval.