During the 2018 session, state representative Jim Lucas filed HB 1106, which would have permitted the cultivation, dispensing, and use of medical marijuana by persons with serious medical conditions in Indiana. Representatives Sean Eberhart, Sue Errington, and Charles Moseley joined Lucas by co-authoring the legislation.
HB 1106 was assigned to the Public Health committee, where it did not receive a hearing. Instead, House Resolution 2 was passed, which urged the legislative council to assign the topic of medical marijuana to the interim study committee on public health, behavioral health, and human services. “During a short session we are focused on emergencies and fixes that can be accomplished in short order. In fact, I am only able to hold three or four hearings on house bills in 2018,” explained Public Health Chair Cindy Kirchhoffer. “Thus, I believe a summer study committee gives the issue a lot more attention and allows all stakeholders, including the medical community, to weigh in.”
When asked if she had a personal opinion on the issue, she responded, “I am neutral and optimistic. However, I do want confirmation from the medical community of the benefits. My hope is that the feds reschedule cannabis and allow legitimate studies.” House Resolution 2 was authored by Majority Floor Leader Matt Lehman, along with co-authors Cindy Kirchhoffer, Chris Judy, and Vanessa Summers. Matt Lehman’s openness to the issue is largely credited to his former mentor and House colleague Tom Knollman, who began advocating for medical cannabis after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “The House Republican caucus is very in favor,” Knollman recently assessed, “the big push is medical.”
HB 1337, introduced by Rep. Jim Lucas, would have opened up the possibility for farmers to cultivate industrial hemp in Indiana, which would have likely brought millions of dollars of investment into Indiana to create the processing infrastructure necessary for the profitable distribution of hemp. It would have lead to more farmers having the option to grow industrial hemp as a crop, and at a time when low dairy prices are hurting Hoosier farmers, increasing revenue options could have revitalized the Hoosier agriculture economy.
HB 1337 passed the House unanimously with a vote of 90-0. It was sponsored into the Senate, where it passed the Commerce and Technology committee with a vote of 8 to 3, with 8 in favor and 3 (Sen. Jean Leising, Sen. Erin Houchin, Sen Eric Koch) opposed. Governor Holcomb then publicly expressed hesitancy about the legislation, and behind the scenes began pressuring Senator Head and other leadership figures to shut the bill down. In deference to the Governor, Senator Head added Amendment #4, which stripped the bill of the original text and intent, and replaced it with a recommendation that the issue be taken up by an interim study committee. This hollow version of the legislation then passed the Senate.
In the conference committee, where differences between House and Senate versions of bills are reconciled, Jim Lucas rejected the changes made in the Senate. “I’ll let it die and the governor can explain why he doesn’t want tens of millions of dollars in investment to come to Indiana,” he explained, refusing to sign off on the Senate changes in the conference committee responsible for reconciling differences between the House and Senate versions. “I support the growth of Industrial Hemp in Indiana,” wrote Head in an email response to constituents, “but the bill simply did not have enough votes to pass in the Senate. If I had called for a vote, it would’ve been defeated.” With other states charging ahead on the industrial hemp front, Indiana likely missed the economic advantage of being a leader in the market.
Shortly after Indiana’s General Assembly closed for business, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he would be filing legislation to remove industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and redefine it as an agricultural commodity.
While multiple CBD oil bills were introduced this session, Senate Enrolled Act 52 was the only one that made the distance. It was signed by Governor Holcomb on March 21st. SEA 52 clarified that CBD oil products with less than 0.3% THC are legal in Indiana for over the counter sale and purchase, although changes were made to the bill incorporating additional labeling requirements for product manufacturers. The new labeling guidelines require manufacturers to include a QR code on product packaging that links to a certificate of analysis demonstrating compliance with THC upper limits for each batch of product. “I’m curious as to the root cause of the push for this labeling requirement,” commented Austin Rhodus, owner and CEO of DREEM Nutrition, “Multiple members of the industry, some of the top professionals in the nation, came and vocalized opinion that these measures were unnecessary. We seem to be comparing hemp products more to pharmaceuticals than a natural herbal supplement.”
Through a Public Access Request, we learned that from 11/20/17 (the day that Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill released his advisory opinion that CBD products were illegal in Indiana) to 3/14/18 (the final day of the legislative session), Governor Holcomb’s office received 205 letters and 77 calls in favor of legal access to CBD oil, and zero calls or letters opposed to legal access.