Carbondale, Illinois — A bill allowing the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale to research potential uses of industrial hemp for Illinois farmers was rejected Tuesday by the Illinois House of Representatives 69-34.
That number was insufficient for the bill to pass, but bill sponsor Rep. I. Ronald Lawfer, R-Freeport, said he plans to reintroduce it early next year.
The Industrial Hemp Act, passed by the Senate 49-9 in the spring, called for the two universities to look into the viability of industrial hemp as an alternative crop.
Tony Young, associate dean for research of the College of Agriculture, said SIUC was willing to do the research, but it would have been very costly.
Federal agencies would have required strict guidelines for fences, surveillance, etc.
“With financial assistance, we could have done the research,” Young said. “Hemp has potential for Illinois, especially as an alternative crop.”
“But there are other crops in Illinois with fibers that can be used for industrial uses.”
Hemp fibers can be used for cloth, paper, oils, food products and building materials. According to the North American Industrial Hemp Council, hemp can yield three to eight dry tons of fiber per acre—four times what an average forest can produce.
The Illinois House debated the bill throughout the spring and postponed the legislation to the special fall veto session this week.
Rep. Charles Hartke, D-Effingham, a co-sponsor of the bill, said hemp could help revitalize the Illinois farm economy.
“There is no hidden agenda for marijuana legalization. This bill would simply allow the universities to do some research about what can be done to see if industrial hemp can be a viable crop,” Hartke said.
Hemp is currently defined as cannabis in Illinois, meaning it is illegal to grow or produce it. Hemp, along with marijuana, is a member of the cannabis sativa family.
But marijuana contains about 20 percent of THC, the psychoactive part of marijuana. Hemp only contains about 1 percent THC.
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, opposed the bill because he felt the cost for SIUC would outweigh the benefits. He said fields of legal hemp would be difficult to differentiate from fields of marijuana, making marijuana production much easier to disguise. In addition, Bost said it is possible to get “high” from hemp if it is produced correctly.
But Ray Hollmann, a member of Omni Ventures, an organization of farmers from eight counties that has actively lobbied for the bill, said myths about hemp should not overshadow its potential.
“I see it as the most important crop of the 21st century,” Hollmann said. “The production of hemp, and the processing plants needed for processing, will bring people back into the rural areas. There is a specific market out there.”
Another member of Omni Ventures, Ned Behrensmeyer, said hemp was an important crop throughout history.
“This is the first cultivated fiber crop,” Breshenmeyer said. “It is simply the fiber crop that will best grow in the Corn Belt.”
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