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County Board committee seeks support of hemp cultivation

Posted on October 14, 2004

Farmers desire new cash crop with many industrial applications

Dekalb, Illinois — DeKalb officials and farmers want to grow industrial hemp in addition to the usual corn and soybeans.

Currently, industrial hemp is illegal to grow in Illinois, even for research purposes.

Julia Fauci, a DeKalb County Board member, said that is the first hurdle that stands in the way of bringing the versatile crop to Illinois.

“We’re asking first that laws are passed at the state and federal levels that will allow research on [industrial hemp],” Fauci said.

Industrial hemp can be used to produce paper, textiles, oil for food and a number of other products. It also could help revitalize nutrient-depleted soil that results from a lack of crop rotation, said Eric Pollitt, owner of Global Hemp, an Internet hemp store and information center on industrial hemp based in Peoria.

DeKalb County farmers grow mostly corn and soybeans. Adding hemp to the rotation could increase farmers’ productivity.

Fauci and another board member, Steve Faivre, drew up a resolution that recently passed through the public policy committee. Fauci said that making a strong case for a possible bill is all that can be done at such a low level of government.

One of the main objectives is to differentiate industrial hemp from marijuana based on the THC content.

“In no way are we saying we believe marijuana is OK,” Fauci said.

Marijuana users typically look for a THC content between 6 and 20 percent while industrial hemp has a THC level of less than 0.3 percent, Pollitt said.

Industrial hemp would be beneficial to Illinois because it would help all areas of society, including agriculture, manufacturers and consumers, Fauci said.

Greg Milberg of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau agreed and said more than 30 countries are seeing the benefits of it.

“It has a variety of uses. Its fiber content is particularly strong. It is a very practical crop and could be a potential income for farmers,” Milberg said.

The Illinois Farm Bureau also has supported research on industrial hemp.

Pollitt said Illinois has come close to getting research permits for industrial hemp.

“A few years ago, a bill passed through the Senate and the House to [former Gov. George Ryan],” Pollitt said. “His first intention was to sign it, but in the end, it was vetoed.”

The bill would have given the University of Illinois and Western Illinois University permission to do research on industrial hemp.

Pollitt said the Illinois Drug Education Alliance was the only group opposed to the bill and that it had ties to Gov. Ryan’s wife, Laura Ryan. Pollitt said he feels this was the reason for the bill’s demise.

One of the main arguments against industrial hemp is that legalization of it may be misinterpreted by a teenager as an acceptance of marijuana, which Pollitt said is an insult to teenagers’ intelligence.

“Grapes are legal for kids to consume, but they know that they shouldn’t be going into their parents’ wine cabinet,” Pollitt said.

In Canada, industrial hemp was grown without any fences surrounding the fields, Pollitt said. He said that in the first year of growing, there were some minor problems with people stealing some of the crop, but that it dropped off almost immediately.

“They found out [industrial hemp] won’t do anything but give you a headache,” Pollitt said.

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