Springfield, Illinois — The Illinois House Tuesday narrowly defeated a bill that would have authorized a study of hemp as a potential agricultural staple in Illinois.
The defeat closed a year of political acrimony over the issue. It has pitted a struggling farm industry looking for a new crop against law enforcement and citizens’ groups concerned that it could open the door to legalization of hemp’s biological cousin, marijuana.
Hemp can be used to make clothing, wood-like products and other fibrous materials. The legislation that failed Tuesday would have created an exception to the prohibition on growing hemp, to allow Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois to conduct a study of its potential as an agricultural crop.
The bill passed the Senate earlier this year. Proponents, led by state Senator Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, say it could boost Illinois’ flagging farm industry by providing a low-cost, low-maintenance crop with a potentially huge market. Opponents maintain that the industrial- hemp movement is a “front” for the legalization of marijuana.
The measure garnered a 69-45 majority in the House vote, but required an “extraordinary majority” of 71 votes to pass because of legislative rules regarding bill action late in the year. The sponsors say they will try again when the Legislature returns in January.
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