By Phillip Smith
A bill that would have allowed Illinois farmers to get permits to grow hemp was stopped dead in a House vote Thursday. The bill, House Bill 1383, was defeated 28-83.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), who emphasized hemp's environmental advantages and broad range of potential uses. "This is part of the new green movement across the nation," Dunkin said. "This will put Illinois ahead of most states."
The measure also had the support of the Illinois Farm Bureau. "There's a potential it [industrial hemp] could be a viable specialty crop," said bureau director of state legislation Kevin Semlow. "It was grown in the state up until the '40s."
Although marijuana and hemp were criminalized federally in the 1930s, farmers were encouraged to grow hemp by the federal government during World War II, when other sources of fiber were in short supply. But after the "Hemp for Victory" interregnum, hemp prohibition returned.
While hemp and hemp products may now be imported into the US, it remains illegal for farmers to cultivate the low-THC cannabis cultivar. Illinois imports $30 million worth of hemp a year, Dunkin said.
Opponents cited the federal government's classification of hemp as a controlled substance. A state law allowing for hemp production would put the state in conflict with the federal law, they argued.
"I would suggest a resolution asking the federal government to move it from Schedule One to Schedule Two so we could do more things, make the kind of distinctions between the plants (hemp and cannabis)," said Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago).
Downstate Republicans cited law enforcement opposition to the measure. "I had a call from [Sangamon County] Sheriff Williamson, and he asked me not to support it," said Rep. Rich Brauer (R-Petersburg).
Sangamon County Chief Deputy Jack Campbell told The State Register-Journal that legalized hemp production would make it harder to find illicit marijuana. "Like with medical marijuana, there will probably be abuse with it, and it would probably be a nightmare to control," Campbell said.
Despite the repeated insistence by US law enforcement spokespersons that hemp production would provide cover for illicit marijuana production (and their implicit acknowledgement that they are unable to tell the difference), that has not proven to be the case in Canada and Western Europe, which have legalized hemp production without any problems of that nature.
According to the industry group Vote Hemp, nine states have passed legislation removing barriers to hemp cultivation and eight more have passed resolutions supporting legalized hemp production.