Industrial hemp has a long history of being grown all over the world – including in America.
But federal law in 1937 effectively stopped production of the crop, which was used in a variety of ways, including to make rope.
Times, however, are changing, and last year Illinois passed a law, signed into law by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, which lifted the restrictions on growing hemp in the state.
Of course, that doesn’t mean people will be seeing fields of hemp around Ogle County or Illinois anytime soon.
Bill Bodine, associate director of state legislation for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said the state is currently working on the rules to be used to secure a license to grow hemp in the state. He stressed that those who want to grow hemp in Illinois must have a license to do so from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
“There is considerable interest right now,” he said of growing hemp.
He said hemp was grown in Illinois before World War II, and the state could again be a good place to grow the crop. But he said the current market is “in its infancy,” and will take some time to develop.
How did a crop that has been grown for thousands of years get such a bad reputation? That is down to its cousin, marijuana. Marijuana contains high levels of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the chemical that causes the psychological effects of marijuana.
Hemp naturally has a much lower THC level. And by law, it has to have a low level in order to be grown, Bodine said.
“Industrial hemp has extremely low levels of THC,” he said. “It is not something you can get intoxicated off.”
But it is something that can be used in a variety of products. Bodine said it can be used as a grain and pressed into oil for food products. It can be grown as fiber, which was a popular early use. As a fiber, it can be used in textiles, or even as a substitute for cardboard.
“It’s a very good fiber product,” he said.
It can also be processed into CDB oil, which many people believe can help with a variety of ailments.
The state Farm Bureau has long been a supporter of industrial hemp, Bodine said, and was glad to see the legislation signed into law.
It could take months for the licensing process to be sorted out, but once it does it will only be a matter of time before farmers across Illinois look at adding hemp to their acreage.