Springfield, Illinois — A plan to authorize a study of industrial hemp — a biological relative of marijuana — fell two votes short of approval Tuesday in the Illinois House. But its House sponsor, Republican Rep. Ron Lawfer of Stockton, plans to seek another vote in January. He believes the measure could pass then.
Critics of Senate Bill 1397 have said that passage of the legislation would send the wrong message to young people about drug use.
Both marijuana and industrial hemp contain the psychoactive ingredient known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), although the amount in hemp is much lower than in marijuana. Opponents of the bill say THC in any amount poses a health risk, especially to fetuses in the womb, nursing infants and adolescents.
“We never said the people who were involved in (supporting) this were druggies,” said opponent Joyce Lohrentz, president of the Illinois Drug Education Alliance. “We do not question the integrity of any of these people. We just believe they haven’t educated themselves as well as they should.”
Supporters of the bill say it is merely meant to help the state’s ailing agriculture industry, and it wouldn’t legalize hemp or marijuana.
“This is not about drugs. This is about agriculture,” said Lawfer, a dairy farmer who was asked by farmers in his district to push the legislation.
The bill would allow the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University to study how feasible it would be to grow hemp in this state. The idea is to look into the possibility of making hemp an alternative cash crop that would provide more revenues for farmers.
In the early 20th century, industrial hemp was grown legally in Illinois. People in Canada and other parts of the world raise it now. The crop can be used to produce various products, such as hand cream, paper and salad oil.
Passage in the House would have sent the bill to Gov. George Ryan for consideration. The Senate voted 49-9 for the measure earlier this year.
Because the bill carried an immediate effective date and because it was being considered after May 31, it needed 71 yes votes for House passage Tuesday. Most bills are considered earlier in the year, when a simple majority – or 60 in the House – is needed.
Lawfer’s bill attracted 69 yes votes, two fewer than necessary. After the bill’s failure, Lawfer used a parliamentary maneuver to keep the legislation alive and allow a revote later.
Lawfer said he plans to try again when the lame-duck legislature returns to Springfield in January, just before a new General Assembly gets sworn in and starts the spring session.
The bill is SB1397. More information is available at: www.legis.state.il.us
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