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Illinois chose old stereotypes over economic potential

Posted on November 30, 2000

Carbondale, Illinois — It is time for us all to replace our association of hemp to drug users with an association to our state’s struggling farmers.

The Illinois Senate saw the vast benefits of asking two major universities to study the uses of industrial hemp last April. But Tuesday, the House was two votes shy of what would have been a step forward for Illinois agriculture.

The bill was the brainchild of an advisory taskforce created by the Senate to examine the viability of growing industrial hemp. The taskforce’s recommendation was to take the investigation to the next level.

The taskforce found Illinois has an economic incentive to look beyond hemp’s stigma and consider what the plant has to offer.

If the bill had passed, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign could have been at the forefront of a growing interest in understanding the virtues of hemp.

But concerns about the plant’s mere 1-percent levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, held Illinois back from whatever opportunities hemp might bring to the state.

The decision not to further consider the possibilities of the plant—in the face of vast documentation and history that vouches for hemp’s versatility and efficiency—comes from a brand of stereotyping that accomplishes little more than to stop innovation.

Hemp is a far more renewable resource than trees. According to the North American Industrial Hemp Council, hemp produces four times the usable material than an average forest. The plant can be processed to make paper, rope, clothing, food products and building materials.

Many Illinois farmers actively support more research into hemp’s uses, both for its possible economic benefits and its ability to enrich the soil when the crops are alternated with corn and soy.

The concern that placing the experimental crops on campus would contribute to drug use neglects the fact it is far easier to purchase marijuana in most cities than it would be to attempt to extract the minute levels of THC from hemp.

If Illinois legislators make fears of drug abuse their greatest concern, they will have to outlaw such innocuous household items as spray paint and glue. The list of prohibited items could surpass the tax code in length, as even a poppy seed bagel could be enough for a determined drug user to produce opium.

While local senator Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville contributed to the legislation’s landslide passage in April, local representative Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, unfortunately contributed to its demise in the House.

Fortunately for Illinois farmers, SIUC, UIUC and, potentially, Illinois consumers, the House will have another chance. The bill has been placed on 2001 calendar and will likely be voted on again in January.

In the interim period, voters will have the opportunity to contact their representatives, and representatives will have the opportunity to educate themselves on the potential virtues of hemp.

If the House lets this chance pass Illinois by again, it may only be a matter of time before other states prove hemp to be worth more than negative stereotypes.

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