Effective January 1, two universities out of the four eligible in Illinois have been legally empowered to conduct medical and industrial research into the use and application of hemp for the good of the society.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Illinois State University are now approved by the Illinois Department of Agriculture to legally grow hemp for industrial research, but not yet for the seeds to be planted. Only state institutions with a 4-year agriculture degrees are eligible to apply for license to grow industrial hemp.

According to the chairman of the Department of Agriculture at Illinois State University, Rob Rhykerd, the school would focus on research related to production and how to increase the fiber content of the hemp plant; and after this, it would be up to agricultural industries in Illinois to go into hemp research and production. According to him, “It probably wouldn’t happen this growing season, but conversations will continue.”

According to experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse: Hemp and marijuana are separate parts of the same species of the cannabis plant. The marijuana portions include the flowering tops or buds, the leaves and the resin. The rest of the plant – stalks and seeds – is considered hemp. Industrial hemp has less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive chemical that gives marijuana users a “high.” But then, clearly defining the mistaken affinity between marijuana and hemp is the problem that hemp advocates have been trying to surmount.

Hemp fibers are used largely in the manufacture of several household and industrial products like paper, carpeting, clothing, plastics, and building materials among others; and the seeds are suitable for the production of personal care products, while the crop as a whole can be used for biofuel and to aid crop rotations.

Luke Haverhals, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Bradley University aims to work with other researchers for the production methods of hemp – the hemp fiber for sawdust, cotton, and a recyclable solvent to overtake polypropylene for plastic. “We wouldn’t have to cut down a forest in Washington and transport plywood to the Midwest,” Haverhals said who advocates for hemp to be grown and processed locally.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Illinois is one of 19 states with laws allowing industrial hemp production and one of 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana.

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