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Board votes to back industrial hemp growth

SYCAMORE - The DeKalb County Board voted Wednesday to support the growing of industrial hemp - a distant cousin of marijuana - for research purposes that could one day allow farmers to cultivate the crop on a more widespread basis. County board member Julia Fauci, D-DeKalb, and fellow board member Steve Faivre, D-Kingston, worked on the resolution that urges the revision of state and federal laws to allow the plant to be grown. Cultivating hemp is controversial because some lawmakers have said it would lead to the legalization of marijuana. Four years ago a state bill that would have allowed University of Illinois researchers to test the crop was vetoed by former Gov. George Ryan. But supporters of the DeKalb resolution said hemp is not the same as marijuana. Industrial hemp contains some tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets users high. But hemp's minute levels of THC make using it as a recreational drug near impossible. Hemp supporters say smoking it makes a person ill. Fauci said she expected more opposition from the county board. "I thought it was going to be a difficult issue," she said. "But once I found out the (Illinois) Farm Bureau was for it, and (after) the exposure we got through (the media), people looked at it without the hype - people looked at it on its own merits." The DeKalb County Farm Bureau also supported the resolution. Industrial hemp can be rotated with other cash corps, chiefly corn and soybeans in DeKalb County. It can be used to make several products including rope and clothing. The plant's seeds produce oil used in beauty products. Using products made from hemp is not illegal in the United States, and hemp products are imported from 30 countries, including Canada. Growing hemp was legal in United States until the 1930s. An exception was made during World War II, when the plant was grown and its fibers used for making rope and canvas. Fauci became interested in industrial hemp when she learned how the plant's fibers can be used to make paper. As a professional book designer and production manager with Northern Illinois University Press, she said she wants to find new sources of paper that are ecologically friendly. According to hemp supporters, paper made from hemp never turns yellow. County board member Patricia Vary, D-DeKalb, said allowing the University of Illinois to study the crop makes sense. The board is not asking for farmers to be allowed to grow the crop yet. "It is a first step, but a very important step to help farmers in this area have more than two crops," she said. "It seems to be the 'wonder crop.'" Only county board Chairman Dennis Sands, R-Shabbona, a former county sheriff's deputy, voted against the resolution. "I'm from a law enforcement background," he said. "As long as it's an illegal substance, it's not good policy for the county board, any board, to support it." Now that the resolution is approved, Fauci said she plans to work with other Illinois county boards to help them urge state and federal lawmakers to allow the plant to be grown. She said there are concerns from some about marijuana plants being grown in hemp fields. But because the plants would cross-pollinate, the THC in the marijuana plants would be diluted so much as to make the marijuana useless as a recreational drug. "(We'll) look at these problems, but I think we need to give it a chance," Fauci said. Aracely Hernandez can be reached at ahernandez@ pulitzer.net.

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