By Lisa Snedeker, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Springfield, Illinois — An Illinois House committee has approved a measure that would allow Southern Illinois University to study the feasibility of industrial hemp production, despite opposition from law enforcement.
The House Agriculture Committee voted 11-4 Thursday to send the bill to the full House for consideration. The Illinois Senate last month approved the study 49-9.
Law enforcement representatives from Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin told the committee that if industrial hemp is eventually legalized, it would be virtually impossible for law enforcement officers to distinguish the plant from its illegal cousin – marijuana – without chemical testing.
“I don’t think any state should conduct a study regarding the desirability and feasibility of the production of hemp, particularly Illinois, without reviewing the potential impact on law enforcement and the crime lab system,” said James Finley, chief of government affairs for the Illinois State Police.
Sen. Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, the bill’s original sponsor, emphasized that the measure is not an attempt to increase drug availability, but to provide the state’s ailing farm economy with an alternative agricultural crop. “We’re not intending to go out and plant 250 acres of industrial hemp day after tomorrow,” she said. “We’re asking for a two-year study. If we put a cork in every bottle that comes along with some new idea or some new proposal, we’d still be back in the Dark Ages.”
Instead, the legislation would allow the study of the crop’s potential viability at SIU Carbondale and the University of Illinois. Part of the study, Bowles said, would explore the removal of all THC, or the chemical that gives the plant its psychoactive substance, from industrial hemp.
The fibers from industrial hemp can be used to produce clothing, car parts and carpet, while oil from the seeds is used in shampoo and lip balm. The difference between industrial hemp and marijuana is very apparent, said Bowles, who has studied the issue extensively.
“Industrial hemp is planted like wheat, very, very close together because what we want from that plant is the stalk,” she said. “Marijuana is planted like corn – far apart, so they can get an ample leaf spread. Because that’s what they want.”
The bill is SB 1397.
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