Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jan 2001
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Contact:  900 North Tucker Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63101
Author: Kevin McDermott, Post-Dispatch Springfield Bureau
Bookmark: (Hemp)


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois Legislature on Tuesday approved a study of 
industrial hemp as a possible crop for Illinois farmers, putting the 
state's most controversial agriculture issue on Gov. George Ryan's desk.

Critics of the measure worry it will provide fodder for drug-culture 
advocates who view it as a first step to public acceptance of recreational 
marijuana. Hemp is a biological cousin of marijuana and contains the same 
hallucinogen - tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC - though in smaller amounts.

Under the measure, Southern Illinois University's main campus in Carbondale 
and the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana would grow hemp under 
controlled conditions to study its economic potential. Hemp is used in much 
of world to make rope, textiles and other materials, but cannot be grown 
legally in most of the United States.

Proponents say the hemp study could provide a profitable alternative crop 
for Illinois farmers struggling with low corn and soybean prices.

The House approved the study by a 67-47 vote. The Senate had passed the 

Ryan has not taken a position on the bill. If he signs it, the Legislature 
still would have to come up with funding for the study, estimated to cost 
between $800,000 and $1 million. Much of that money would be for 
barbed-wire fences and other security measures around the plots of hemp 
grown by the universities.

State Sen. Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, who is the bill's top proponent 
in the Legislature, shook hands on the House floor while wearing a beige 
turtleneck sweater made from hemp.

"It's warm, it's nice, it's very comfortable," said Bowles, who has spent 
more than a year trying to get the study approved. "I have all kinds of 
hemp products that go from paper to hair products to lotions to cooking oil."

Though hemp cannot be grown legally in Illinois, hemp clothing and other 
products can be imported and sold here. Bowles - who said she bought the 
sweater from a Chicago hemp-products mail-order business - said that market 
could provide the economic boon that Illinois farmers are looking for.

W. David Shoup, dean of the College of Agriculture at SIU, agrees.

"People who are asking for this are genuinely asking for alternative crops 
in Illinois. . . . (They) are not looking for a loophole to legalize 
drugs," said Shoup, who would be in charge of SIU's portion of the study. 
"Part of the goal is developing a product that can't be abused."

Shoup said part of the work would be to determine whether genetic 
engineering could produce a hemp plant with THC levels "at or near zero."

SIU's specific role, he said, would be two-fold: studying the viability of 
growing hemp in Southern Illinois climates and determining what products 
could be developed from it. The university already specializes in studying 
alternative crop uses, like production of wall materials from wheat stubble.

The Illinois Drug Education Alliance, an anti-drug citizens' group, fought 
to prevent passage of the bill, with the help of state and federal law 
enforcement officials who also oppose it.

The alliance argues that legalization of industrial hemp could become one 
step toward legalizing marijuana. They also warn that legalized hemp could 
make it harder to enforce existing drug laws because hemp and marijuana are 
often hard to tell apart without chemical testing.

"(Drug) prevention dollars have been cut over the last several years. We're 
scrounging all the time for dollars to do prevention," said Priss Parmenter 
of Olney, Ill., the alliance's director, who also works in the field of 
drug rehabilitation. "It's a little irksome when we're fighting an 
agricultural hemp bill when I'm at home working with kids on substance 
abuse issues."

Parmenter said the group will try to persuade Ryan that signing the bill 
"would send the wrong message to children" about drugs. The group also will 
seek to block funding for the study.

Metro East area representatives who supported the bill were: Steve Davis, 
D-Bethalto; Kurt Granberg, D-Carlyle; Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville; Thomas 
Holbrook, D-Belleville; Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville; Tom Ryder, R-Jerseyville; 
and Wyvetter Younge, D-East St. Louis.

Voting against the bill were Reps. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro; Gary Hannig, 
D-Benld; and Ron Stephens, R-Troy.

The bill is SB 1397.
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D