By TIM ALEXANDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois is poised to join dozens of other states in the cultivation of industrial hemp under a bill passed unopposed on May 30 by State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights). Banned for growth in the Prairie State and prohibited federally for almost 80 years, the cultivation of hemp would again be legal for farmers to grow under Hutchinson’s Senate Bill 2298 — the Industrial Hemp Act. Hemp is a close cousin of marijuana without the buzz-producing THC component.
The bill awaits only the signature of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner to become law. At Farm World press time, Rauner had not yet approved the legislation.
“Illinois has some of the best farmland in the Midwest,” Hutchinson said in a news release. “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 available for purchase in the state of Illinois is currently produced in a growing number of states that already passed legislation approving hemp cultivation, including Indiana and Kentucky. Hutchinson’s bill would allow farmers to apply to the Illinois Department of Agriculture for a license to cultivate and process industrial hemp. The bill’s passage was a cause for celebration for members and supporters of VoteHemp, a Washington-based advocacy group which had already planned to gather on June 7 for their annual Hemp Lobby Bay on Capitol Hill.
“We are excited the Illinois legislature passed industrial hemp legislation to allow Illinois to take advantage of 2014 Farm Bill programs for hemp cultivation and processing,” said Eric Steenstra, president of VoteHemp. The lobbyist group contributed heavily to discussions and meetings that led to industrial hemp approval by the Illinois state legislature, including working with the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) and state commodity associations, according to Steenstra.
The Illinois Farm Bureau has long held a policy, implemented by grassroots members, that supports the production, processing and utilization of industrial hemp, noted Bill Bodine, associate director of state legislation for the IFB. “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 Senator Hutchison,” he said.
The 2014 Farm Bill allowed for universities and state departments of agriculture to develop pilot programs to study hemp cultivation and marketing. The following year, Illinois passed legislation allowing state universities offering four-year agriculture degrees to research hemp, which is used in the manufacturing of paper products, plastics, textiles and fuel.
“We are hopeful the governor will sign this legislation that would allow Illinois to become the 41st state to enact such a law,” Steenstra said.
Hutchison’s state bill comes on the heels of federal hemp legislation introduced by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which would lift the legal ramifications of the production of industrial hemp in all states. The bipartisan measure legalizes industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity by removing it from the federal list of controlled substances.
McConnell’s Hemp Farming Act of 2018 also gives the states the opportunity to become the primary regulators of hemp production, allows hemp researchers to apply for federal grants from USDA, and approves crop insurance for eligible hemp producers. The law would build upon the success of the hemp pilot programs and spur innovative growth within the industry, the bill’s primary sponsor noted.
“By legalizing hemp and empowering states to conduct their own oversight plans, we can give the hemp industry the tools necessary to create jobs and new opportunities for farmers and manufacturers around the country,” said McConnell.