SPRINGFIELD — Imported hemp products like cereals, frozen waffles and T-shirts will remain on store shelves, but farmers will continue to be barred from growing industrial hemp in Illinois.

By Diane Lee

SPRINGFIELD — Imported hemp products like cereals, frozen waffles and T-shirts will remain on store shelves, but farmers will continue to be barred from growing industrial hemp in Illinois.

A majority of House lawmakers this week voted to reject House Bill 1383, which would have allowed Illinois farmers to get permits to grow and to produce industrial hemp. The vote was 23-83 against the measure.

“We are importing close to $30 billion of products that we use every single day; clothing, lotions, hair products, physical products with simple fibers,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, D-Chicago. “This is a good thing.”

Illinois imports many hemp products from Canada, China and Europe, Dunkin said. Members from the Illinois Farm Bureau supported the proposal, which would have allowed the state’s farmers to take financial advantage of a growing market, Dunkin said.

The fibers of hemp plants, often confused with marijuana, are used in a variety of products from cosmetics to clothing and food. Dunkin said hemp’s hallucinogenic chemical content is too low to get people high from smoking it.

But during debate, one lawmaker said it could be difficult for law enforcement to distinguish hemp from illegal marijuana.

State Rep. Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago, voted against the proposal, because he said the species of plant is classified as a “controlled one substance.”

“Looking it up, there are nine states that have laws on the books,” Fortner said. “But because of federal rules, no one can grow it because it is not there. So my first question would be: Doesn’t that render this law moot?”

Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia have enacted laws to allow commercial hemp cultivation, according to Illinois NORML, a nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate penalties for responsible cannabis, according to its website.

But even in states with laws that allow hemp farming, only the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has the power to issue licenses to grow industrial hemp, according to Illinois NORML.

The Illinois State Police could not be reached for comment.

State Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, who voted for the proposal, brought up a concern that federal law would trump attempts to grow hemp.

“If this bill passes, it sets up the mechanism for the Department of Agriculture to license this,” Eddy said. “But they won’t be able to license this until the federal government lifts, or at least allows, for the growing of industrial hemp, right?”

Dunkin countered, citing the historical uses of hemp.

“Do you know the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, representative?” Dunkin replied. “Thomas Jefferson, our (third) president had a hemp farm here in this country. George Washington, our first president, grew and cultivated hemp in this country. These were federal presidents.”

Former Gov. George Ryan vetoed a similar proposal in 2001.

Dunkin and Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML, hope to reintroduce a similar proposal next legislative session.

“Unfortunately the Legislature did not pass this legislation at this time,” Linn said during a press conference after the debate. “But we are hoping that in the near future there will be resolution calling on the federal government to distinguish between industrial hemp and cannabis used for medical and recreational purposes.”

Legislation to legalize medical marijuana, meanwhile, is pending in both the House and Senate.

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2 Comments

  1. Hemp

    sounds like most of our legislators are smoking the real thing

    or just being ignorant

    a common human condition.

     

  2. Hemp

    Just saw a hand lotion in a beauty salon. One of the ingredients was hemp. It was made in China and I try not to buy products from China ever since our family lost a beloved dog to the pet food problems from China. So I didn't buy that product. Our elected representatives ought to be doing everthing possible to encourage the production of American-made products. Even second graders recognize hemp as a legitimate resource distinct from cannabis. Our law enforcement, too, ought to be focused on preventing the violent crimes that fill our cities and towns…not targeting plant life. I support our farmers and will vote for legislators that support the growing of hemp in Illinois. We need to elect people with intelligence. We need to buy products that are locally made, or we'll all be looking for jobs in China.

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