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Industrial Hemp Legislation in Illinois

Posted on August 1, 2000

July 2000 Update and Review

When the 1999 legislative year began, industrial hemp legislation suddenly appeared in ten states: Hawaii (HI), Minnesota (MN), Montana (MT), New Hampshire (NH), New Mexico (NM), North Dakota (ND), Tennessee (TN), Vermont (VT), and Virginia (VA). By the end of 1999 that number had grown to 16 with the addition of Arkansas (AK), California (CA), Illinois (IL), Iowa (IA), Maryland (MD), Oregon (OR), and Wisconsin (WI). 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 23, 1999 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 January 1, 2000.

The Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory 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 Department 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 Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force disbanded.

Hemp, by its current definition, refers to Cannabis sativa L. which produces 0.3% or less, per weighted unit of flowering tops and leaves, of delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. Neither the stalks nor the seeds contain THC and these figures were specifically exempted from the 1937 Marihuana Stamp Tax Act. The 0.3% THC figure is the accepted international standard. Marijuana varieties, by contrast, typically contain 2-6% or higher THC.

Industrial hemp emerged strongly in 1999. A reappraisal of it’s value 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 growing it and developing and industry around it. england dropped its ban in 1993. Germany in 1995 (banned since only 1982). 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. The 1999 acreage was nearly 35,000 acres. France, Eastern European countries, and 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.

In January 2000, Illinois State Senator Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, introduced the Illinois Industrial Hemp Act – Senate Bill 1397, House Bill 3557 which seeks to "authorize a two year research project at the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University to study the feasibility of growing hemp again in Illinois." After passing the Senate Agriculture Committee 6 to 0, it passed the full Illinois Senate 49 to 9. On March 24th, it passed the House Agriculture Committee 11 to 4. However, when it reached the full House it was stalled by election year fears that Representatives voting for the bill would be branded as "voting for marijuana." The Industrial Hemp Act research bill requires 60 votes to pass. On April 15, the Illinois House passed Resolution 553 calling on the Federal Government to recognize the difference between low THC hemp varieties and high THC marijuana varieties of Cannabis sativa L. This companion resolution to SR 0259 passed earlier by the Illinois Senate. The House resolution passed 60 to 49. In other words, the 60 votes which passed it are exactly the number necessary to pass the final research bill!

Representative Art Tenhouse voted against Resolution 553. Senator Laura Kent Donahue supports the Industrial Hemp Act. There is a broad bipartisan support for the Industrial Hemp Act in the Illinois House. Speaker of the House Madigan voted in favor of Resolution 553. The bill in the House is controlled by the Republicans and it was the Minority Leader, Representative Lee Daniels, who had the bill removed from the agenda rather than run the risk of having it defeated last Spring. Representative Ron Lawfer, R-Galena, will try to bring the bill back up for a vote in the Fall Veto Session. This vote will be a critical one for Illinois farmers. We must have other viable crops to grow besides corn and soybeans and the potential of a hemp-based agriculture is vast. The rich historical legacy of hemp as a crop plant in human societies is second to none. This most versatile of all crop plants must not be kept off the table any longer. Please urge Representative Tenhouse to support SB 1397, HB 3557.

The Illinois Farm Bureau supports SB 1397, HB 3557, and research into hemp as an alternative value-added crop for Illinois farmers. On May 18th, the Governor of Maryland signed the state’s hemp research bill. Four states have now passed hemp legislation. However, for Illinois to do so would be a clear signal to other major agricultural states that the time to reconsider the potential of a hemp-based agriculture has arrived. Our current agriculture is threatened on many fronts but probably by nothing so much as our own resistance to change. We are prisoners of our own misconceptions and the misconceptions concerning hemp have persisted long enough and are costing us too much, both economically and environmentally. It is time to sort out the details and put the record straight. It is ludicrous to suggest the world’s strongest natural fiber can’t be profitably put to use and it is the height of irresponsibility to continue to destroy the world’s forests and sensitive biota for wood-based products for which high quality substitutes could be made from an annual crop plant that we can grow supremely well in Illinois.

Support the Illinos Industrial Hemp Act — support research now!

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