Lead grower Dave Wilson cares for marijuana plants in the "Flower Room" at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center on Sept. 15, 2015, in Albion, Ill. (Seth Perlman, Associated Press file)

Illinois hemp bill could increase access to medical marijuana

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A bill in the Illinois General Assembly that would allow hemp to be grown legally in the state could mark a major shift for medical marijuana growers if approved.

The pending legislation could help medical marijuana growers increase their relatively small pool of 25,000 certified users to the general public, Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois Chairman Ross Morreale told the Chicago Tribune.

Advocates of the bill said it could also address a lack of regulation of hemp by subjecting the cannabis plant to the same testing for potency and pesticides as medical marijuana in Illinois.

The bill’s opponents are generally those who also oppose medical marijuana.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser, is president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes marijuana legalization. He said hemp is a minor concern, but he opposes state programs to legalize it, if it’s just a “stalking horse” for marijuana.

In the two years since medical marijuana appeared in Illinois, the hemp industry has thrived.

With medical marijuana, growers and dispensaries are heavily regulated, patients require a doctor’s prescription and a background check, and only those with certain approved medical conditions are granted access. But adults can buy and sell hemp-based products that include e-cigarettes and massage oils used to soothe ailments such as insomnia and inflammation.

While hemp is similar to marijuana, manufacturers say it has little or no THC, the component that gets users “stoned.”

According to the Hemp Business Journal, revenue from products containing hemp increased 30 percent to $262 million nationwide in 2016. It projected that figure to increase to more than $1 billion by 2020.

Information from: Chicago Tribune