INDIANAPOLIS — Gregg Baumbaugh has 4,000 pounds of cannabis sitting in his automobile parts manufacturing plant. It wasn’t illegal for him to import it, but it’s against the law for Indiana farmers to grow the variety of cannabis he buys in bulk. Baumbaugh wants to see that changed. The “weed” he uses to make the insides of interior doors and armrests at his Elkhart County facility doesn’t have enough of the psychoactive ingredient THC to give anyone a marijuana mind-altering high.“If somebody smokes the stuff we import, the only thing they’re going to get is a nasty headache,” said Baumbaugh, CEO of FlexForm.
Last month, Baumbaugh testified in favor of legislation that could open the door in Indiana to the farming and production of pot’s less potent cousin: hemp, a multipurpose crop that can be used in the production of textiles, foods, plastics, building materials and medicines.
To the surprise of the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, the legislation passed out of the conservative, Republican-controlled Senate with unanimous support and is headed for the House. Similar legislation in past years, entangled with efforts to legalize marijuana, never got out of committee.“Nobody was expecting it was going to be a unanimous vote,” said Yoder, who admitted he was a reluctant supporter of the bill until Baumbaugh -- whose plant is in Yoder’s district — enlightened him.
Baumbaugh spends almost $1 million a year importing hemp and other natural fibers that provide the lightweight, biodegradable material that his automobile manufacturing customers, including Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, want used in their car interiors. The low weight of the material helps increase the car’s fuel efficiency.“I could save a lot of money if I could buy it locally from farmers who were allowed to grow it,” Baumbaugh said. “It’s easy to grow. That’s why they call it a ‘weed’ — you can grow it anywhere.”Yoder concurred: “The more research I do, the more ridiculous it seems that we’re not growing hemp.”Marijuana and hemp are different varieties of the same species of plant — Cannabis Sativa — which is why it’s not a legal cash crop in Indiana. It used to be: The federal government encouraged the state’s farmers to grow industrial hemp rope during World War II.