A chapter in the Indiana smokable hemp saga has officially come to a close.
Two years into challenging the state’s ban of smokable hemp production, plaintiffs in the case of C.Y. Wholesale, Inc. et al. v Holcomb et al have voluntarily withdrawn from the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs in the case are a group of hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) companies that sued the state in 2019 after Senate Enrolled Act 516 criminalized the production, sale and possession of smokable hemp in Indiana. They challenged the law in federal court and have continued the fight through several back-and-forth decisions among different courts, along with a roller coaster of market changes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s been a somewhat symbolic battle, as other states in the U.S. dealing with a similar debate have anticipated a ruling in the Indiana case to set a legal precedent.
Justin Swanson, an attorney with Bose McKinney & Evans LLP who represented the plaintiffs in the case, tells Hemp Grower the case was “voluntarily dismissed without prejudice.” That means if the state begins to crack down on enforcement of the law, the businesses can refile the case if they feel the need to protect themselves. But so far, Swanson says he is not aware of “anyone who has been charged with the crime of producing or possessing smokable hemp” in the state.
“The hardest thing to swallow for the industry here in Indiana is this stuff’s just being shipped into the state anyway,” Swanson says. “It hasn’t curbed the strong consumer demand. All it’s done is shift money away from farmers here to out-of-state farmers and businesses.”
Ultimately, the plaintiffs decided to withdraw the case to focus on their own businesses, a court filing says.
“Unfortunately this is the result of going up against a defendant that has unlimited resources,” says Swanson, who is also president of the Midwest Hemp Council, a trade organization that supports both cultivation and regulatory advancements in the region’s hemp industry. “They know what they’re up against, and the state is not going to give up, so we’re going to focus our efforts on the general assembly and current policy here in Indiana.”
Changing the Law
The state’s hemp industry has already made headway on attempted law changes, though the road ahead is still long.
House Bill 1224, which would repeal the state’s ban on smokable hemp flower and prevent hemp regulators from enforcing regulations that are stricter than federal laws, passed the state’s House of Representatives in March. But it got held up in the Senate and fizzled out by the end of the state’s legislative session.
While H.B. 1224 did not pass this year, Swanson says he and others in the industry did have another win this legislative session, as they successfully blocked an attempt at criminalizing delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the state.
As far as H.B. 1224, Swanson remains optimistic it will eventually pass in the state. “Lawmakers understood the issue which is a really good sign of progress in terms of education. They totally got it,” Swanson says. “We’re going to build off the momentum we had this year. I don’t think anyone thought we could get as far as we did this year.”