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Serving: IL

Illinois: Better than Indiana for hemp farmers

Austin Keating field of hemp plants
TAKING IT EASY: Illinois offers more legal hemp markets than Indiana, such as dispensaries and smokable CBD flower. Both markets are illegal in Indiana.
Compared to its neighbor to the east, Illinois offers more places to sell hemp products and easier testing during the growing season. But testing may be changing.

When it comes to hemp sales, Illinois is a Midwest winner. Illinois producers who plant hemp have greater access to CBD markets, and when it comes to testing, the state is more lax than neighboring Indiana.

Illinois growers can harvest their best hemp flowers and sell them for smokable products. The state also allows farmers to sell to dispensaries and infusers that mix non-hallucinogenic hemp compounds like CBD with THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Related: Hemp acres, prices down for 2020

Both markets are illegal in Indiana. But in March, Illinois extended sales of these products until September next year, when rules delayed by Congress take effect. They’ll force the state to end its hemp pilot program and take on a USDA-approved program with stricter THC measuring requirements — which Indiana already follows. For Illinois hemp growers, that means their yield advantage may disappear.

Federal regulations require that hemp plants test below 0.3% THC, but Illinois labs currently test for fewer types of THC than do USDA or Indiana labs. That makes it easier for Illinois hemp growers to get higher CBD yields, since the crop produces more CBD the closer it gets to the 0.3% threshold.

Don Robison, seed administrator at the Office of the Indiana State Chemist, says, “We find that if you’re testing 10% to 12% CBD, you’re going to test over 0.3% total THC.”

Illinois hemp harvests can yield up to 14% CBD and still comply with THC regulations in the state, because it only tests for active THC and not inactive THC. Illinois growers could push CBD yields further and leave crops in the field longer than Indiana growers during the 2020 growing season because of this.

USDA rules require active and inactive THC be added together, but those rules could change under a new administration and Congress, says David Lakeman, division manager for the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s cannabis and hemp programs. But there’s no way to know what the changes will look like right now, so he’s telling Illinois farmers to prepare for a new rulebook on THC testing at the beginning of hemp harvest next year.

“Be aware that these changes are now on track for the end of the 2021 growing season,” Lakeman says.

Indiana perspective

Over in Indiana, Robison says he’s been testing for total THC for five years, adding that it just makes sense to him.

 “When you heat hemp up, if you smoke it, the inactive THC becomes active. It’s a controlled substance,” says Robison, who works with several farmers who grow or process on both sides of the Illinois-Indiana state line.

Illinois’ plan, along with Indiana’s, requires growers to send samples of their hemp in for state-approved testing within 15 days of harvest. Robison says Indiana farmers are often failing to harvest a field that’s already pushing the 0.3% threshold. 

After a farmer gets a sample tested, Robison says if it’s close, “you want to get it harvested and tested again right away.”

Some farmers got bad advice from hemp advisers, assuring them they could wait the full 15 days to harvest after a test result close to 0.3% THC. Random tests by Robison’s department found flowers that “went hot” — above the 0.3% threshold. Farmers had to destroy their harvests and document destruction with photos.

“They blame us, but I try to say to them, respectfully, ‘You are required to test your crop and make sure it gets harvested before it goes hot,’” Robison says.

That’s the baseline for hemp farmers in both Illinois and Indiana — it’s just a little easier to do in Illinois. 

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