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Illinois Industrial Hemp Task Force Update and Review

Posted on January 31, 2000

Summary

When the 1999 legislative year began, industrial hemp legislation suddenly appeared in ten states: Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Tennessee, Virginia, and Vermont. By the end of 1999 that number had grown to 16 with the addition of Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Oregon and Wisconsin. Of these, North Dakota, Minnesota and Hawaii successfully passed their legislation and gained their governor’s signatures calling for either test plots or moving directly at the state level to allow farmers to again grow this versatile crop. Illinois joined the fray on March 23rd with the adoption, by the vote of 48 to 6, of a Senate Resolution calling for the creation of an Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force to look into the issue of industrial hemp and return a report and recommendations to the Legislature by Jan 1, 2000. See the Illinois Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force Report for more information.

The Industrial Hemp Task Force was made up of Republican and Democratic appointees representing a broad range of agricultural, business, academic and law enforcement professionals. Meetings were organized and moderated by Joan K. Messina, Assistant Director of the Illinois Dept. of Agriculture, and her staff who also drafted the final report. A total of three day-long meetings were held during the Fall, two in Springfield and one in the Chicago area. With the completion of its report the Task Force is now disbanded.

Industrial Hemp emerged strongly in 1999. A reappraisal of it’s value to the modern world and it’s role in modern agriculture is taking place worldwide. The hard pressed American farming economy cannot ignore these developments. Most of our major trading partners and allies are either actively conducting hemp related research or already growing it and developing an industry around it. Germany began research in 1992 and dropped its ban in 1995 (it had only been banned since 1982). England dropped theirs in 1993. Canada licensed its first research crops in 1994 and opened it up for commercial farming in 1998. About 6,000 acres were planted the first year and the 1999 acreage was nearly 35,000 acres. France, most Eastern European countries, as well as Russia and China have never banned its production and are the primary sources of low THC seed stock as well as the major exporters of hemp products.

It is the position of our federal government that hemp has no commercial value. Shouldn’t the marketplace decide this? Hemp was the most widely traded commodity on earth until the inventions of the cotton gin and steam engine eclipsed it’s primary usage’s. However, an understanding of world history minus an appreciation of the role hemp has played in it is as deficient as an understanding of American history without a knowledge of cotton. The word “canvas” derives from the word “cannabis” and from the time Portugal’s Prince Henry “the Navigator” initiated the era of world seafaring exploration — and the empires that followed — the balance of world power was as critically dependent on hemp as it is on oil today. It is ludicrous to suggest a crop as versatile and historically important as hemp could not find a host of new uses when fully exposed to the forces of capitalism and modern technology.

Hemp, by current definition, refers to varieties of Cannabis sativa which produce 0.3%, or less, per weighted unit of flowering tops and leaves, of delta-9Tetrahydrocannabinal (THC), the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. Neither the stalks nor the sterilized seeds contain THC and these were specifically exempted from the 1937 Marijuana Stamp Tax Act. The 0.3% figure is the accepted international standard. Marijuana varieties by contrast, typically contain 2-6%. The Canadians, when they first began researching hemp, merely adopted the list of European accepted cultivars without making it an emotional issue. They require testing of the hemp crop to monitor THC content, as well as GPS coordinates to identify its location, but if a crop Is found to exceed the standard it is not destroyed, only harvested early. The farmer, therefore, does not lose the entire value of the crop.

Two recent events demonstrate how out of touch our federal government is with the rest of the world on this issue. On Aug. 9, 1999 the US Customs Service on orders from the DEA seized a tractor trailer load of sterilized hemp seed in Detroit which was on it’s way from Kenex, Ltd., the largest Canadian processor, to a US company which for years had been selling blended hemp birdseed. Recently the use of sterilized hemp seed in foods for human consumption has been on the rise so US Customs also demanded Kenex recall previous shipments of granola bars and oil or face a $500,000 fine in 30 days. The seed can acquire traces of THC during harvesting but even though the seed tested at only .0014% THC the DEA’s position was that because of their “zero tolerance” policy they refused to recognize any minimum standard. No legal basis was provided to back up this position. It was analogous to seizing bread poppy seeds because of tiny traces of opium. Kenex sued and because the action was a clear violation of the NAFTA and GATT treaties the matter was finally dropped after the Canadian ambassador got involved. On Dec. 7, 1999 the US Customs Service issued new guidelines which state, “any-hemp product, or part thereof, which contains less than 0.3% THC may be imported legally into the United States.” This is the first sign the federal government is finally willing to acknowledge the same standard as the rest of the world.

On Dec. 13, 1999 the first modern legal hemp crop in the US was planted on ¼ acre at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The DEA issued a permit for the test plot only after a privately funded $200,000 cyclone fence, razor wire and infrared detected enclosure was built to contain it. And this for a crop that by definition has no psychoactive potential!

The Industrial Hemp Task Force Report is a very strong recommendation that the IL Legislature move to accept the 0.3% THC standard and separate hemp from marijuana thus initiating the process which will result in Illinois farmers once again being able to grow and develop this crop. No legislation has yet been introduced but it will not be long in coming. Illinois farmers need to register their strong support for these developments with their state representatives and be watchful of developments in the weeks ahead.

See the Illinois Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force Report for more information.

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