Springfield, Illinois — Anti-drug activists are hoping to put the brakes on legislation that would authorize two Illinois universities to conduct research on the production of industrial hemp, a biological relative of marijuana.
Senate Bill 1397 cleared the state Senate on a 49-9 vote last February, but it stalled in the House, where sponsoring Rep. Ron Lawfer, R-Stockton, decided not to call it for a vote because he didn’t think it had enough support to pass.
The bill would allow the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University to study the feasibility of growing hemp in Illinois and possibly making it an alternative cash crop for the state’s struggling farmers.
Members of the Illinois Drug Education Alliance, fearing the measure could come up for a House vote soon, said Tuesday the bill is a bad idea.
Legalization of industrial hemp is one of the “foothold strategies” employed by people who want to make the use of marijuana and other drugs legal, said Joyce Lohrentz, president of the alliance.
Marijuana and hemp both contain the psychoactive ingredient known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), although the amount in industrial hemp is extremely low.
THC poses a health risk, especially to fetuses in the womb, nursing infants and adolescents, Lohrentz said at a Statehouse news conference.
“Our only agenda is children and helping to create a healthier environment for them to grow up in,” she said. “We believe in fighting to protect them and keeping them safe.”
Lawfer disputed the alliance’s characterization of the legislation.
“We’re not legalizing (hemp),” he said. “This bill does not legalize it.”
“I am representing farmers in our area that are looking for an alternative crop,” he added. “The people that asked me (to sponsor the legislation) are farmers in my area, and I’m not sure they’re in any way involved in any drugs or pot or whatever — or even read High Times magazine,” Lawfer said.
Lawfer said Tuesday he hopes the bill comes up for a House floor vote during the fall veto session, which continues this week and concludes December 1st.
If the House passes the bill, it would still need the governor’s signature to become law.
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