EVANSVILLE — Standing outside the gates of the derelict Mesker Amphitheatre in September 2015, then, independent mayoral candidate Steve "Woz" Wozniak introduced a then-illegal plant, industrial hemp, as his main campaign platform.
“Evansville will be the first municipality in the world to occupy a building made out of industrial agriculture (hemp),” Wozniak told supporters and media attending his official mayoral candidacy announcement.
Voters rejected Wozniak's industrial hemp platform later in November. The self-proclaimed serial inventor and entrepreneur received only four percent of the vote in a three-way mayoral race.
Back in 2015, industrial hemp was not well known. Ongoing national media coverage of hemp-based CBD oil, however, helped bring the plant into the mainstream.
And the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, making it a legal crop.
It has more than 20,000 different applications, from medicinal and food grade oils from the seeds to paper and clothing from the fibers.
Industry analysts predict the hemp market could hit more than $20 billion in the next three to five years.
But can hemp advocates and entrepreneurs like Wozniak, or any Hoosier, grow a crop of hemp this season and tap into that market?
Indiana State Chemist and Seed Commissioner Robert Waltz said the answer is not simple.
Get a license
To grow, handle or research hemp, you'll need a license.
"But first, there needs to be a set of administrative rules," Waltz said.
Waltz, who's office is in charge of regulating industrial hemp in Indiana, said the state is required to set up its own oversight program and administration rules for commercial production.
It's a process that could take up to nine more months.
In addition to licensing, the rules will determine a laundry list of definitions and processes related to hemp production, including fees, seed labeling and requirements, crop site definition and background checks.
"(Background checks) are currently part of the federal law," Waltz said. "It will also be reflected in the Indiana law, just as it is now practiced in Indiana for (hemp) researchers who have held licenses for the past few years."
Under the existing law, a licensee needs a clean criminal record for 10 years from drug-related misdemeanors or felonies.
Licensees will also need to meet a minimum required square footage or acreage for growing. Minimum requirements have not been determined.
"You'll have to grow several acres," Waltz said. "You won't be able to grow individual plants."
Without a license, a hemp grow will be considered marijuana and is subject to Schedule 1 drug laws.
Source your seeds
Growers will need to purchase seeds certified by the Office of Indiana State Chemist, but good luck finding them.
Most hemp seeds for the 2019 growing season are already accounted for.
"Hemp has been a prohibited product in Indiana agriculture for at least 80 years," Waltz said. "States are beginning to grow hemp for the purpose of seed production, but it will take time to build up enough seeds that can be widely distributed."
Indiana companies will likely grow and sell certified hemp seed in the future, just not this year.
Have a plan
Waltz said the most important takeaway for interested industrial hemp growers is to have a plan.
Right now, there are no industrial hemp processors in the state.
But Waltz said growers should start thinking about which markets to enter (CBD, fiber, etc.) and identify hemp varieties best suited for those markets.
"If you're working with a fiber client, you'll be working with a different kind of hemp than hemp produced for CBD," Waltz said. "Even in the CBD area, you're often not working with seeds. You're working with propagated clones.
"Those types of things are really important to know now that the markets are not well established and seed sources are restricted. You really need to know what you're doing."
Then, find a buyer. Set a price point. Draft a contract.
Waltz's office advises growers, unless well capitalized, to allow the state's hemp markets to develop after the administrative rules take effect.
"By 2020, Indiana should have opportunity for people to be growing hemp on a broader scale," Waltz said.
IndyStar environmental reporter Sarah Bowman contributed to this story.