Up until the 1950s, hemp was an important industrial product in the United States, used for everything from ropes and clothing to parachutes for the military during World War II.
Then came the War on Drugs, and when all forms of cannabis, the category marijuana belongs to, were banned and hemp production declined.
Farmers have submitted more than 600 applications to grow or process hemp to the Illinois Department of Agriculture under recently announced regulations for the crop. More applications are coming in daily.
Jeff Cox is the bureau chief for the agriculture department’s Bureau of Medicinal Plants, which oversees medical marijuana production and now will regulate the hemp industry.
It is an industry, he said, that likely will prove a boon to farmers, industry and the public alike.
With the prices for soybeans and corn, Illinois’ major crops, remaining lackluster for the past few years, diversifying is a good strategy for the state’s farmers. Hemp is largely drought-resistant, pest-resistant and does not need a lot of fertilizer.
The potential markets are almost limitless.
“If you can make it, you can make it out of hemp,” Cox said.
Among the best-known products are rope and CBD oil, which has been touted as a remedy for all sorts of medical conditions from anxiety to arthritis. Cox said his department does not vouch for its efficacy.
Hemp can also be used to make shirts that are softer than cotton, “hempcrete” that is as strong as concrete and plastics that are biodegradable, among a host of other products.
“We don’t have a lot of industrial uses in the United States for the industrial side of hemp,” Cox said. “As those markets develop, I think we have a potential” for growth.