To Grow, or Not to Grow Hemp Advocates Push for Research Crops

Article excerpt

Illinois supporters of hemp production will attempt what their Missouri counterparts failed to do last April - get their legislators to pass a bill that allows farmers to grow hemp for research.

Hemp, also known as marijuana, is controversial because its illegal uses usually overshadow its industrial uses.

Hemp supporters claim, however, that the plant has huge economic potential and that the THC level, on which the plant's value as a drug is based, can be regulated. "The hemp industry is happening, but it's happening with imported materials," said Boyd Vancil, a farmer in Poplar Bluff, Mo., who is involved in hemp-growing operations in Canada and Europe. "Missouri was a leader and can be a leader again." He added: "How can we make claims on the pros or cons of hemp without allowing research and studies?" Supporters claim that hemp produces 4.2 times the amount of paper per acre than trees and that it can be used to make many products, including food, clothes, paint, fuel, fiberboard, fiberglass, cement blocks and cosmetics. Hemp also prevents erosion, returns 70 percent of the nutrients to the soil, cleans pollutants from the soil, can grow in most climates, can grow on poor rocky soil, chokes out weeds and repels bugs. No insecticides, p esticides or fertilizer is needed to grow the crop. Opponents of legalized industrial hemp, most prominently the President's Office of National Drug Control Policy, say the profitability of industrial hemp is uncertain, with only $1.8 million in hemp imports last year. The main objection, though, is that legalization of hemp would make it more difficult to detect cultivation of marijuana. Barry McCaffrey, director of the president's drug office, states that it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between plants without chemical analysis. Ray Hollmann, who sits on the advisory committee for the Henry White Research Farm near Belleville, said that hemp plants are grown closely together because in hemp production the stalk is harvested. Marijuana plants are grown far apart to encourage leaf growth, which is essential for drug production. Because of the way the two plants are grown, it is easy to tell them apart, Hollmann said. Hollmann, a retired teacher who lives in Fairview Heights, would like the farm, operated by the St. Clair County Water and Resource District, to raise hemp experimentally. …