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Illinois Farmers Hope To Grow Hemp

Posted on July 29, 2004

Advocates Say Crop Would Raise Needed Cash

Chicago, Illinois — During World War II, farmers all over America were urged to grow industrial hemp so that Allied troops would have plenty of rope and canvas.

Many Illinois farmers raised the plant, including Paul Taylor’s father. The old hemp processing plant still stands near his family’s Esmond farm. Taylor said he would like to put the building to good use once again.

“We would be growing a crop that would be used for fiber, just like a cotton crop,” he said. “Or the seeds could be harvested for use for oil, just like a soybean. I think it has value that the American people need to look at seriously.”

But in 2004, farmers are not just discouraged from growing hemp — they are prohibited from raising the crop, NBC5’s Phil Rogers reported on Wednesday. While hemp grows wild all over Illinois, it is illegal to grow the plant.

Industrial hemp has many uses — its fiber can be used to make paper and cloth, and its seeds can be used in food products. The Body Shop even has a whole line of hemp products.

Hemp is one of the world’s oldest cultivated plants — George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it, and it was illegal not to grow the plant in colonial Jamestown. Currently, hemp is grown legally in dozens of countries around the world, including Canada.

The only thing industrial hemp cannot be used for is getting high.

“Hemp is not marijuana,” said farmer Steve Fairve. “They’re two different plants.”

Hemp is a relative of marijuana, Rogers reported. But unlike its counterculture cousin, hemp has almost no THC, the chemical in marijuana, which creates the high.

Hemp was outlawed in the 1930s amid drug fears that spawned cult classics like the film “Reefer Madness.”

Opponents of legalizing industrial hemp argue that hemp would help to hide vast fields of marijuana, Rogers reported. But advocates point out that if someone wanted to grow marijuana, hemp would be the last plant one would want to cultivate.

“It will actually decrease the THC content of its drug cousin,” Fairve said.

Faivre’s family has worked on their DeKalb County farm for generations. Fairve is a DeKalb County Board member and said farmers could use the choice of another viable crop. Fairve noted that hemp has probably one of the longest lists of usability of any plant that is grown in the world.

Four years ago, the Illinois General Assembly voted almost unanimously to have the University of Illinois study hemp as a cash crop. But then Governor George Ryan vetoed the bill, citing fears that hemp would pave the way for the legalization of marijuana.

“Our political leaders seem to be very hesitant to say, ‘I sign this bill into law, making it legal,’” Faivre said, “because I think whatever party did it, the opposition would label them with being soft on drugs, because they legalized hemp.”

Fairve and Julie Fauci, another DeKalb County Board member, hope to pass a resolution this month calling on the General Assembly to reconsider hemp for Illinois, Rogers reported. The Illinois Farm Bureau is also on record advocating industrial hemp research, noting all hemp used for consumer products in the United States is imported from other countries.

Fauci said the time is right to make hemp available as a cash crop to Illinois farmers. Fauci points out that fabric made from hemp feels a lot like linen — and is extremely durable. She bristles at the notion of linking hemp with marijuana.

“It’s not at all the same plant,” she said. “I mean, it is related. It’s like one of your relatives acting up, and you’re getting all the blame.”

Copyright © 2004, NBC. All rights reserved.

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