Illinois House Kills Industrial Hemp Bill


Photo: The Sustainability Ninja
Industrial hemp is a variety of cannabis with almost zero THC. Its fibers are useful for clothing, paper, cosmetics, and fuel.

​A bill that would have allowed Illinois farmers to grow industrial hemp was badly defeated Thursday in the state House.

House Bill 1383, sponsored by Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), would have allowed farmers to get permits to grow hemp, a low-THC varietal of the cannabis plant. Hemp fiber can be used in clothing, paper, cosmetics, and ethanol, reports Andy Brownfield at the Springfield State Journal-Register.
“This is part of the new green movement across the nation,” Dunkin said. “This will put Illinois ahead of most states.”

Photo: Ken Dunkin
Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago): “This is part of the new green movement across the nation”

​Despite their almost complete lack of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, the federal government considers hemp plants to be a Schedule I controlled substance. Hemp fiber and products made from it are allowed to be bought and sold in Illinois — but the fiber must be imported from other countries, which seems downright un-American.
The state imports almost $30 billion in hemp-based products every year, according to Dunkin.
The industrial hemp measure was supported by members of the Illinois Farm Bureau.
“There’s a potential it could be a viable specialty crop,” said Kevin Semlow, director of state legislation at the Farm Bureau. “It was grown in the state up until the ’40s.”
According to Semlow, hemp fibers are extremely long and strong, and have a burlap-like feel.
The Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (IL NORML) was also in favor of the legislation.
But Dunkin’s House colleagues overwhelmingly disagreed with the measure, defeating it with 28 votes yes and 83 votes no.
One argument was that hemp would still be classified as a controlled substance, and growing it in Illinois would conflict with federal law.
“I would suggest a resolution asking the federal government to move it from Schedule I to Schedule II so we could do more things, make the kind of distinctions between the plants (hemp and cannabis), said Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago), who voted against the measure.
“I had a call from (Sangamon County) Sheriff (Neil) Williamson, and he asked me not to support it,” said Rep. Rich Brauer (R-Petersburg), who also voted against HB 1383.
Sheriff Williamson claimed legalizing hemp production would make it harder to look for illegal marijuana, according to Chief Deputy Jack Campbell. Searches for pot patches are done by helicopter, and it would be hard for sheriff’s deputies to differentiate between legal industrial hemp and illegal marijuana, he claimed.
“Like with medical marijuana, there will probably be abuse with it, and it would probably be a nightmare to control,” Campbell said. Well, Deputy Campbell, they say one man’s nightmare is a another man’s dream.
A similar industrial hemp bill was vetoed by former Gov. George Ryan in 2001.