Illinois — Corn and soybean fields as far as the eye can see are the typical sights of summer throughout rural areas of Illinois. But next year, ‘fields of green’ will take on an entirely different meaning as farmers will soon be allowed to grow industrial hemp.
Illinois will now permit growing cannabis for use in non-drug products like paper and fabrics, biodegradable plastics, health food and construction supplies.
The decision by Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the Industrial Hemp Act (Senate Bill 2298) means that the state joins others like Kentucky and Tennessee in developing a hemp industry.
Late last month, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a widely supported measure to allow the planting and harvesting of hemp, which is a derivative of the cannabis plant. It has incredibly low levels of THC –the mind-altering component found in marijuana– and can be used for a variety of products, such as rope, plastics, paper, lotions, and more.
“Legalizing the farming of industrial hemp just makes good sense,” Rauner said in a statement. “Roughly 38 states — including our neighbors in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee — have allowed or are considering allowing cultivation of this crop for commercial, research or pilot programs. Our farmers should have this option as well. This new state licensure program begins that process.”
The Department of Agriculture will grant licenses to grow hemp and will establish rules for THC-level testing of industrial hemp crops.
Federal regulations do not distinguish a difference between hemp and marijuana, meaning it’s still illegal in the U.S. which calls into question whether or not it can be sold across state lines.
Jeff Cox manages the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s new hemp program and says that could all change in the near future.
“The farm bill, if that goes through the way, it’s really going to loosen strings on hemp nationwide it sounds like and in that case, I think interstate commerce will be very possible,” he said.
The Illinois Farm Bureau said it was happy about the news.
“Illinois Farm Bureau policy, developed by our grassroots members, has long supported the production, processing, and utilization of industrial hemp,” Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. said in a statement. “Illinois farmers will now have new opportunities to diversify their farms by growing this versatile crop.”
Rauner also signed a bill that will ease weight-limit restrictions during harvest time, which will benefit farmers and agricultural product haulers. It was a move those in the industry welcomed, according to the statement.
House Bill 5749 allows haulers to apply for a permit to exceed weight limits by up to 10 percent from the Illinois Department of Transportation and local authorities. The permits will cost up to $1,000 and the fees will go to the State Construction Account Fund.
Hemp isn’t new to Illinois. During WWII, Illinois was one of the top producers of the crop, and now some farmers suffering through declining prices for corn and soybeans year after year, are high on the idea. But, the details of the program have yet to be released.
“What I’m telling people now, the people that want to grow hemp next year,” said Cox. “Is to start your research on how to get a DEA license and what you as an individual farmer may have to do to import seed or to obtain seed somehow.”