House Kills Industrial Hemp Bill

House Bill 1383, sponsored by Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, which would have allowed farmers to get permits to grow hemp, was soundly defeated in the House.

Fibers from hemp, a sister of the marijuana plant, can be used in clothing, paper, cosmetics and ethanol.

“This is part of the new green movement across the nation,” Dunkin said. “This will put Illinois ahead of most states.”

Hemp plants are classified as a Schedule One controlled substance. Hemp fibers are allowed to be bought and sold in Illinois, but must be imported.

The state imports nearly $30 billion in hemp-based products, Dunkin said.

The measure was supported by members 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.”

Hemp’s fibers are extremely long and strong and have a burlap-like feel, he said.

The Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was also in favor of the proposal.

However, Dunkin’s House colleagues overwhelmingly disagreed with the measure. They defeated his bill on a 28-83 vote.

One argument was that the plants would still be classified as a controlled substance, and growing them in Illinois would conflict with federal law.

“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.

Reps. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, and Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, also voted against the measure.

“I had a call from (Sangamon County) Sheriff (Neil) Williamson, and he asked me not to support it,” Brauer said.

Williamson said legalizing hemp production would make it harder to look for illegal marijuana, Chief Deputy Jack Campbell said. Monitoring is done by helicopter, and it would be hard for sheriff’s deputies to differentiate between legal industrial hemp and illegal marijuana, he said.

“Like with medical marijuana, there will probably be abuse with it, and it would probably be a nightmare to control,” Campbell said.

A similar bill was vetoed by former Gov. George Ryan in 2001.

Andy Brownfield can be reached at 782-3095.

– Article originally from The Illinois State Journal-Register