Pubdate: Wed, 15 Nov 2000
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Kevin McDermott, Post-Dispatch Springfield bureau


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Is it rope, or dope?

That's the question at the heart of a smoldering debate over a proposal in 
Illinois to explore growing industrial hemp as a legitimate cash crop.

The controversy, which has already brought a threatening letter from the 
White House drug policy director, has state lawmakers growling at each other.

"The sails on Columbus' ships were hemp. The first American flag was made 
from hemp," said 79-year-old state Sen. Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, the 
leader of the Legislature's industrial hemp movement. "It's the oldest 
fiber crop in existence . . . and we need alternative crops for Illinois 

Bowles expressed outrage Tuesday at critics who alleged she and other hemp 
proponents are pawns of the drug-legalization movement. "I don't condone 
the use of marijuana," she said.

The issue could hit the floor of the Illinois House as early as this week, 
putting downstate lawmakers on the hot seat as they balance the concerns of 
socially conservative constituents against desperate farmers.

On Tuesday, a group of Illinois anti-drug activists relighted the year-old 
issue with some of the harshest rhetoric yet. Led by state Rep. Mary Lou 
Cowlishaw, R-Naperville, they portrayed industrial hemp supporters as 
cohorts of the "drug culture."

The talk of hemp rope, clothing and other useful products, they said, is a 
ruse to make society comfortable with hemp's close herbalogical cousin, 

"To make the choice that this is (just a) crop is simply beyond the 
comprehension of a mature adult," Cowlishaw said in news conference at the 
state Capitol.

She invoked the safety of her seven grandchildren as her reason for leading 
the charge against the hemp proposal. "Why would we risk the safety of our 
children?" Cowlishaw said.

Joyce Lohrentz, president of the Naperville-based Illinois Drug Education 
Alliance, displayed full-color reproductions of pro-hemp advertisement in a 
prominent drug-culture magazine.

"Industrial hemp is one of the foothold strategies used by the drug 
culture," Lohrentz said. "They will stare at you with their glassy eyes and 
sermonize on the numerous commercial uses for industrial hemp. (But) the 
industrial hemp movement is more about legalizing drugs than about finding 
alternative crops for farmers."

Bowles, long one of the Legislature's chief hemp proponents, bristled at 
the characterization, though she acknowledged she's used to it.

"The ladies from Naperville," Bowles said, nodding grimly. "To give the 
impression that people who are supportive of industrial hemp are a bunch of 
druggies is a horrible, horrible insult."

Bowles' bill authorizing a study of hemp's possibilities passed the Senate 
this year and is pending in the House. It would allow the agriculture 
departments at the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University 
at Carbondale to grow hemp to study its viability as a cash crop for use in 
clothing and other textile materials.

Critics - including White House Drug Policy Director Barry McCaffrey, who 
wrote legislators on the issue in February - note that hemp contains 
hallucinogens and is similar enough to marijuana to confuse police and make 
drug enforcement difficult.

The pending bill is SB 1397.
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