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State senate passes Hutchinson’s Industrial Hemp Act, legislation heads to governor

Illinois would join a growing list of states allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp under a plan sponsored by Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D – Chicago Heights). The bill was approved by both houses of the Illinois Legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.

“Illinois has some of the best farmland in the Midwest,” Hutchinson said. “And with more than 80 percent of our land use tied to agriculture, farmers would finally have the chance to grow and produce a product that is already available in our stores.”

Industrial hemp is from the plant species Cannabis sativa and has been used worldwide to produce a variety of industrial and consumer products, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Hemp is a source of fiber and oilseed grown in more than 30 nations. In the United States production is controlled under drug enforcement laws. To produce industrial hemp in the United States the grower must obtain a permit from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Senate Bill 2298 creates the Industrial Hemp Act allowing farmers to apply to the Illinois Department of Agriculture for a license to cultivate and process industrial hemp. 

The confusion between industrial hemp and marijuana is based on the visual similarities of widely differentiated varieties of plants. The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center states industrial hemp is high in fiber and low in active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes some cannabis varieties a valued drug. 

In 2014, the Federal Farm Bill for the first time allowed universities and state departments of agriculture to develop pilot programs to study the cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp. Illinois passed legislation in 2015 allowing state universities with four-year agriculture degrees to research hemp.

“The Illinois Farm Bureau has long had a policy, implemented by our grassroots members, that supports the production, processing and utilization of industrial hemp,” said Bill Bodine, associate director of state legislation with the Illinois Farm Bureau.  “Our members look forward to having the ability to raise a new crop that can help them diversify their farms.  We appreciate all the hard work and leadership of Sen. Hutchinson in passing Senate Bill 2298.”

Industrial hemp has a myriad of uses, including paper, plastics, textiles and even fuel.

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