Illinois Hemp Overview

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  2. Illinois Hemp Overview

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What is Hemp?

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of 0.3% or less. Marijuana is another variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, but it typically contains a higher THC content than hemp. Under federal law, this difference in THC levels is what makes hemp legal and marijuana prohibited. THC is one of the cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. The psychoactive or mind-altering effects attributed to the consumption of marijuana are caused by the presence of THC, which interacts with the human endocannabinoid system.

Although hemp and marijuana are herbaceous plants of the same family, they have several differences. Hemp, for instance, is commonly cultivated to process cannabidiol (CBD), a medicinal substance used to treat a variety of conditions. Marijuana contains very low levels of CBD. Hemp can be grown either indoors or outdoors, while marijuana is mainly grown indoors to maximize the production of THC in female plants. While hemp and marijuana plants produce seeds, only hemp seeds are used for processing oils, flours, or hemp milk.

Because hemp has such a wide range of medical and non-medical uses, it is often referred to as industrial hemp. Below are some parts of the hemp plant and hemp’s common derivative:

  • Hemp Seed: The hemp plant produces small seeds from which hemp oil is processed. Hemp seeds are known to provide many dietary benefits because they contain protein, potassium, and vitamins

  • Hemp Flower: The flower of the hemp plant is the source of the medicinal compound CBD. Hemp flowers can also be dried and cut into portions for smoking. Because hemp flower contains only 0.3% THC or less, it is not psychoactive when consumed. Medical cannabis patients smoke hemp flowers to alleviate conditions such as pain, seizures, anxiety, stress, and high blood pressure

  • Hemp Extract: Hemp extract refers to the cannabinoids, fatty acids, vitamins, and other compounds derived from the seeds, stalks, leaves, and flowers of the hemp plant. Hemp extract is processed using a solvent or by means of supercritical CO2 extraction

  • Hemp Oil: Hemp oil is extracted from the seeds of the hemp plant. Like other hemp-derived substances, its consumption does not cause any psychoactive effects. Hemp oil is a major ingredient in some topical creams. It is also used as a nutrient-rich cooking oil. Hemp oil contains calcium and magnesium, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

  • Hemp Hearts: Hemp hearts are taken from the inner parts of hemp seeds. They are highly valued as a source of nutrients like protein, minerals, vitamins, and zinc. Hemp hearts are known to improve mental concentration and brain health

  • Hemp Milk: This milk is made from hemp seeds blended in water. It is particularly consumed by people allergic to gluten or animal milk

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Is Hemp Legal in Illinois?

Yes, the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp is legal in Illinois. Illinois legalized hemp cultivation in 2015 when it established its Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. This came after the enactment of the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized states and universities to embark on hemp research programs. Prior to the approval of the 2014 Farm Bill, industrial hemp had been classified as a Schedule 1 drug with no possible medical benefit.

Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed SB 2298, the Illinois Industrial Hemp Act. This legislation removed the earlier restriction on commercial hemp cultivation but made it mandatory for all hemp growers in Illinois to be licensed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). It also permits the medical use of hemp-derived products, provided they do not contain more than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. SB 2298 removed industrial hemp from Illinois's Noxious Weed Act, under which it had previously been categorized as illegal. The 2018 Farm Bill required all states, including Illinois, to submit Hemp Plans to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Before the enactment of the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills, Illinois had passed a series of hemp laws. In 1999, the Illinois House of Representatives approved HR 168, a bill establishing the Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force. It was followed in the same year by a supporting Senate Bill, SR 49. In 2000, another hemp-related bill, HR 553, was passed in Illinois. It asked Congress to pass legislation authorizing the commercial cultivation of industrial hemp. Hemp licensing and regulation are under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Illinois law allows industrial hemp to cross state lines, provided the hemp contains a maximum THC level of 0.3%.

What Hemp Products are Legal in Illinois?

Illinois permits the sale and consumption of all hemp products with a THC content not exceeding 0.3%. This includes products such as Delta-8 THC, Delta-10 THC, HHC, and THC-O. Illinois residents can only cultivate hemp if they have obtained a Hemp Grower's License from the Illinois Department of Agriculture. It is legal to smoke hemp flowers in the state, but only in a private residence. Neither truckers nor drivers are permitted to smoke hemp while driving. Hemp products sold in Illinois must:

  • Be tested in a licensed laboratory to ensure that they do not contain more than the allowed THC limit of 0.3%

  • Be labeled appropriately per the Illinois Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act

  • List all preservatives and additives used in processing

Can a Municipality Restrict Hemp Cultivation and Processing in Illinois?

There are no provisions in Illinois law for municipalities to restrict hemp cultivation and processing.

How to Get a License to Grow or Process Hemp in Illinois

In order to grow or process hemp in Illinois, a person or business entity must obtain either an Industrial Hemp Cultivator License or a Processor/Handler Cultivator license. Applicants must complete their applications online and must provide the following information/documents:

  • The name, phone number, email address, and physical address of the applicant

  • The business name and physical address of the applicant

  • The type of business entity filing the application, whether it is a sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation

  • The strains of hemp that the business entity intends to grow

  • Accurate details of the GPS coordinates of the cultivation area

  • Legal documents showing that the proposed cultivation area is actually a farm

  • A comprehensive map of the proposed cultivation area

  • The application fee

Industrial Hemp Cultivator Licenses and Processor/Handler Licenses in Illinois cannot be issued to applicants with drug-related felony convictions in the 10 years prior to their applications. Criminal background checks are conducted by the Illinois State Police on applicants for Hemp Cultivator or Processor Licenses in the state. Applicants are required to pay a $60 fee for fingerprint tests. The Illinois Department of Agriculture will either refuse an application or issue a license within 30 days. Prospective licensees pay an application fee of $100. The renewal fee is also $100.

How Much Does a License to Grow or Process Hemp Cost in Illinois?

Illinois hemp grower licenses are issued at the following costs:

  • A 1-year license costs $375

  • A 2-year license costs $700

  • A 3-year license costs $1,000

License fees are paid either by check or money order.

How to Grow Hemp in Illinois

Industrial hemp can only be cultivated in Illinois by hemp cultivator licensees. According to Illinois law, hemp growers must ensure that the minimum land area for outdoor cultivation is one-quarter of an acre, while the minimum land area for indoor cultivation is 500 square feet. Cultivators are only allowed to grow hemp in the land areas approved by the IDOA. Growers may only cultivate hemp seeds, transplants, and clones certified by the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA). Illinois hemp growers are legally required to plant only industrial hemp strains that have a certified THC content of 0.3% or less. The IDOA requires industrial hemp cultivators in Illinois to submit a report before planting showing the source of the seeds, clones, and transplants they intend to grow.

Hemp grows best in loamy soils with a pH value of 7.5. The cultivation area should be properly leveled before planting begins to improve irrigation and prevent water retention in the soil. Hemp can be cultivated by planting seeds, transplanting immature hemp plants from a nursery, or inserting hemp clones cut from parent hemp plants. The arrangement of crop rows usually depends on whether hemp is being grown for its seed, fiber, or for the processing of CBD. Growers cultivating hemp for CBD prefer to plant feminized seeds, as these will yield a crop richer in cannabidiol. Hemp plants grown for fiber take up less space than those grown for seed or CBD extraction. Hemp can be grown outdoors in dense rows, while most marijuana growers plant feminized crops in greenhouses to remove the risk of pollination by male plants in an open field.

Hemp is usually ready for harvest within four months if it is cultivated for CBD or for fiber. Hemp plants grown for seed take longer to mature, usually up to six months before harvest. Even though hemp is known to be resilient to weather attacks from pests, it is sometimes necessary to apply pesticides on growing plants. In Illinois, only pesticides approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Agriculture can be used on industrial hemp. The Illinois Department of Agriculture provides a database of licensed pesticide applicators.

Where Can You Buy Hemp Flower in Illinois?

You can buy smokable hemp flower in the following places in Illinois:

  • Licensed CBD dispensaries

  • Grocery stores

  • Drug stores

  • Online retailers

Licensed hemp business entities in Illinois are allowed to ship in hemp with no more than 0.3% THC from other states.

Hemp vs THC

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, while THC is one of its many chemical components. The hemp plant contains minuscule amounts of THC compared to the marijuana plant. This difference in THC content is responsible for the distinction between hemp and marijuana.

Hemp-derived THC products like Delta-8 and Delta-10 are legal in Illinois. However, the Illinois Department of Agriculture issued a notice in 2022 insisting that the synthetic processing of hemp-derived Delta-8 THC is banned in Illinois, although no legislation has been passed to that effect.

Hemp vs CBD

Hemp plants are naturally rich in CBD. Hemp and CBD are, however, not synonymous. CBD is derived or extracted from the hemp plant by means of supercritical CO2 extraction. CBD is derived from the flower of the hemp plant. All hemp-derived CBD products are legal for sale and consumption in Illinois.

Hemp Applications

Although hemp is known as a source of medical products such as CBD, it is also used in producing several industrial and household products. These hemp products include the following:

  • Hemp Batteries: These are batteries made from the bast fiber extracted from hemp plants. The bast fiber is used to make hemp nanosheets and supercapacitors, which are considered a viable replacement for lithium-ion and graphene-based batteries. Hemp batteries are known to be more renewable, more biodegradable, faster to charge, and cheaper to produce than other types of batteries

  • Hemp Phytoremediation: Hemp is increasingly being adopted for use in phytoremediation, the process by which toxic and contaminated land is cleared of toxins using plants. Hemp is particularly suitable for this process because its roots are able to absorb toxins from contaminated soil

  • Hemp Plastics: Hemp fibers are used to produce bioplastics. Hemp bioplastics are valued for being derived from a renewable and environmentally friendly source. Car companies are beginning to produce vehicle parts such as dashboards and seating using hemp bioplastics

  • Hemp Biofuels: Hemp biomass is processed into biodiesel, ethanol, and methanol. Processors convert the cellulose in hemp biomass into a fermented raw material for hemp ethanol. Hemp methanol is produced by means of dry distillation or pyrolysis. Hemp biofuels are seen as a more sustainable energy source than fuels derived from hydrocarbons

  • Hempcrete: This refers to a type of concrete made from hemp fiber. Hemp fiber is combined with water and lime to form a mixture that is favored in construction. Hempcrete is used in building insulation walls because it is lightweight and resilient

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