ILLINOIS (WCIA) — The Department of Agriculture announced new licenses are now available for farmers and business owners looking to cash in on industrial hemp.
During a Tuesday morning press conference, Director John Sullivan said it was important to start the process before the start of this year’s growing season had passed.
“As soon as the weather dries up a bit, you’re going to be able to plant hemp this year,” he said.
Governor J.B. Pritzker hosted the press event in his executive office and touted the rollout of the new program as one that will provide a boost to the state’s agricultural and manufacturing economy.
“Industrial hemp is potentially a billion dollar industry that Illinois will now take part in,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said he expects several new or existing businesses to begin processing the plant for its seeds, fibers, and oils.
Hemp plants offer fibers and oils, creating a wide variety of potential uses in the commercial and retail markets. Hemp fibers can be used to make rope, plastic substitutes, paper, biofuels, and many other products. Hemp oils are often used in beauty products, and are increasingly available in retail shops around the country. Experts say it can even extract harmful or toxic chemicals out of the soil where it is planted.
“Hemp is also known for not requiring a lot of soil amendments, fertilizers, pesticides, and things like that,” said Jeff Cox, head of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Medicinal Plants. “So we hope that it’s an environmentally friendly crop and that we don’t have to add a lot of chemicals to the ground in order to have a successful harvest.”
Cox says the early applications kept the state agency busy reviewing and processing them all day long.
“We started this morning at 9 am. Our first application was filed at 9:08. As of about 5 minutes ago, we have 136 applications that have been filed for growingand 37 applications filed for processing,” Cox said late Tuesday afternoon.
The state is also working to improve the public image of the plant that America used to cultivate and grow before it was banned.
“For many years, hemp was illegal because it was considered to be a drug,” Sullivan said. “We want to remove that stigmatism and show folks that this is a crop.”
This year, hemp plants will be grown and displayed at the Illinois State Fair and at the DuQuoin State Fair.
“Ultimately, my goal is we can get to the point where it can be sold just like corn and soybeans across the country,” Sullivan said.
Applications cost $100 each. Annual licenses cost $375. Two-year licenses cost $700. Three-year licenses cost $1,000. People who apply will have to tell the state where they plan to grow the crop so inspectors can conduct tests to make sure the THC levels stay below the legal limit of 0.3 percent.
“We want to make sure we know where the crop is being grown,” Sullivan said. “We’re want to make sure it doesn’t get abused and we’re going to be out there testing it to make sure those THC levels stay down there where they need to be so the product is used the way it is intended to be used.”
*This article was updated to clarify the price of the application fees and the annual licenses.
The full story aired on WCIA-3 News at 6 pm.