Hemp, pot’s qui­eter cousin, mak­ing noise

It could be next Ill. cash crop even be­fore mar­i­juana

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - NEWS - By Robert McCop­pin rm­c­cop­[email protected]­bune.com Twit­[email protected]­pin

Hid­den in a corn­field in west­ern Illi­nois last sum­mer, 1,200 stalks of cannabis grew tall and bushy. But these plants won’t get any­one high.

They make up the first crop of hemp to be grown le­gally in Illi­nois in decades. And in the new year, the seeds from the plants will help sow the first mod­ern wide­spread com­mer­cial hemp har­vest.

Hemp — the same plant that makes mar­i­juana but with­out the THC that gets users stoned — is ready to come out of hid­ing. Ear­lier this year, state law­mak­ers au­tho­rized its pro­duc­tion in Illi­nois. And just this month, the new fed­eral farm bill that le­gal­ized the pro­duc­tion of the plant na­tion­wide was passed with bi­par­ti­san sup­port and signed into law by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Hemp has long lived in the shadow of its more pop­u­lar cousin, mar­i­juana. But with the re­cent ex­plo­sion of the cannabis ex­tract cannabid­iol, or CBD, as a di­etary sup­ple­ment, ad­vo­cates say hemp will emerge as the next big cash crop in Illi­nois.

And while ad­vo­cates be­lieve they have the sup­port to get both recre­ational mar­i­juana, and CBD pro­duced from mar­i­juana, le­gal­ized in Illi­nois for adults, that process would prob­a­bly take un­til 2020 to get es­tab­lished, giv­ing hemp a head start be­cause it’s al­ready le­gal.

Andy Hus­ton, a six­th­gen­er­a­tion farmer who grew that first seed crop in the Ro­seville area, about 60 miles west of Peo­ria, says CBD is just the be­gin­ning. Hemp can also be used to pro­duce fiber for cloth­ing, tex­tiles, build­ing ma­te­ri­als, pa­per and food.

“CBD oil will help the in­dus­try get started,” he said, “but there’s go­ing tobe tons of off­shoot busi­nesses that will come out of this.”

Hemp Busi­ness Jour­nal re­ported that the plant gen­er­ated $820 mil­lion in U.S. sales in 2017, most of it im­ported, but with pro­jec­tions to grow to nearly $2 bil­lion by 2022 as it shifts to a made-in-Amer­ica in­dus­try. A lead spon­sor of the Illi­nois hemp le­gal­iza­tion bill, state Sen. Toi Hutchin­son, a Demo­crat from Olympia Fields, said the law will al­low lo­cal farm­ers the abil­ity to grow a prod­uct that’s al­ready im­ported and avail­able in stores.

Typ­i­cally, farm­ers pre­fer to have buy­ers lined up be­fore they grow, so the in­dus­try is likely to start slowly in 2019. There’s a need for pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties to turn the crop into us­able prod­ucts. Once grow­ers know how to raise it and where to sell it, based on cur­rent prices, Hus­ton be­lieves it would be much more prof­itable than the typ­i­cal lo­cal crops of corn and soy­beans.

Hemp was widely grown do­mes­ti­cally be­fore the fed­eral Mar­i­huana (sic) Tax Act of 1937 made it pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive and the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act of 1970 made it il­le­gal.

One lin­ger­ing ques­tion for mod­ern-day farm­ers is how hemp grow­ing will be li­censed. The Illi­nois Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture planned to pub­lish its pro­posed rules Fri­day, said Jeff Cox, chief of the Bu­reau of Medic­i­nal Plants.

Af­ter a 90-day pub­lic com­ment pe­riod, the state rules may be fi­nal­ized in April, and state of­fi­cials hope to take ap­pli­ca­tions and ap­prove li­censes as quickly as pos­si­ble, so farm­ers can get seeds or seedlings in the ground by June 1.

If the pro­posed rules are work­able, some farm­ers will be quickly tak­ing out their credit cards to or­der scarce hemp seed, said Liz Mo­ran Stelk, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Illi­nois Stew­ard­ship Al­liance, a pro­farm­ing group that lob­bied for the state law.

“There’s go­ing to be way more com­pe­ti­tion in 2020,” she said. “It’s ur­gent to get the li­cens­ing done in time for spring plant­ing.”

So far, about 150 farm­ers and en­trepreneurs have in­quired with the state about grow­ing hemp, a small frac­tion of the 72,000 farm­ers in the state. Cox ex­pects that num­ber to grow sub­stan­tially.

Un­til now, hemp prod­ucts were le­gal to im­port to the U.S. but not to pro­duce here.

Start­ing in 2014, Congress au­tho­rized hemp pro­duc­tion only through univer­sity re­search pro­grams. But with cannabis re­main­ing il­le­gal per fed­eral law, col­lege of­fi­cials ini­tially were con­cerned about los­ing fed­eral fund­ing if they par­tic­i­pated. Only West­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity in Ma­comb started such a pro­gram, which is where Hus­ton got his li­cense to grow. South­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity in Car­bon­dale is also start­ing a re­search pro­gram.

The new fed­eral farm bill takes hemp off the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act, thereby al­low­ing in­ter­state com­merce, crop in­surance, and stan­dard busi­ness loans and tax de­duc­tions. Those will be ma­jor ad­van­tages for hemp over med­i­cal mar­i­juana, which re­mains il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law. An­other big dif­fer­ence is that while med­i­cal mar­i­juana must be grown in­doors for se­cu­rity rea­sons, hemp can be grown out­doors on a much larger scale.

That’s why hemp could be a wel­come re­lief for farm­ers los­ing money to low corn and bean prices and the re­cent tar­iff war with China, said Hus­ton, whois part owner of Salveo Health & Well­ness med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary in Can­ton, Ill. Such dis­pen­saries can sell CBD de­rived from mar­i­juana al­ready, but only to li­censed pa­tients.

Med­i­cal mar­i­juana busi­ness own­ers want to make sure hemp has to un­dergo the same test­ing as their prod­ucts, which get screened for po­tency, pes­ti­cides and other con­tam­i­nants. Oth­er­wise, be­cause CBD can be de­rived from both hemp or mar­i­juana plants, there will be an un­fair play­ing field, said Ross Mor­reale, co-founder of Ataraxia, which grows and sells med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

Hemp could bring new op­por­tu­ni­ties in par­tic­u­lar to smaller fam­ily farm­ers, many of whom have been hurt or driven out of busi­ness by the “get big or get out” pres­sures of sell­ing com­modi­ties like corn and beans, said Rob Davies, spokesman for the Illi­nois Farm­ers Union.

While CBD is the first play for farm­ers, Davies said, the long game is in fiber, as the need for nat­u­ral, biodegrad­able ma­te­ri­als in­creases. If farm­ers pool their money to buy pro­cess­ing plants, they can keep the profit. “It’s a way to sta­bi­lize farm­ing,” he said.

Pro­ces­sors are also look­ing to cash in on the new hemp mar­ket. Orochem Tech­nolo­gies Inc. in Naperville is­sued a state­ment that it has patents to ex­tract CBD, and plans to help farm­ers pro­duce a va­ri­ety of prod­ucts.

Since pas­sage of the farm bill, the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that any use of CBD oil as a di­etary or health sup­ple­ment is il­le­gal with­out FDA ap­proval, so in­dus­try mem­bers are wait­ing for di­rec­tion from the FDA.

“They need to find a le­git­i­mate path for com­pa­nies to con­form to,” Stark said.

Ear­lier this year, the FDA ap­proved the first plant­derived CBD drug, Epid­i­olex, to treat epilepsy. Hemp sup­port­ers claim the plant also helps a wide va­ri­ety of other ail­ments, but the FDA has warned CBD mar­keters against mak­ing un­sub­stan­ti­ated med­i­cal claims.

The re­moval of hemp from the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act will al­low re­search to in­ves­ti­gate its health ef­fects. That’s where grow­ers hope to make big money.

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