Facing strong lobbying by Gov. George Ryan's office on a hemp-study bill
and with only a 50-50 chance of overriding Ryan's veto, the bill's sponsor
is seeking other ways for universities to study the economic viability of
the potential crop.

Rep. Ronald Lawfer, R-Freeport, said Wednesday that he was trying to
arrange a meeting Nov. 27 between representatives of the governor and
University of Illinois officials to discuss the issue. That would be the
final week of this year's legislative session and the last chance for any vote.

Lawfer, who pulled the bill from a floor vote Tuesday, said he also had
heard that universities might be able to get a federal permit to grow test
plots without a state law being passed.

"The governor's office was lobbying very strongly," he said, "and because
of redistricting, several legislators were concerned about their new
districts and opponents and so on. You could say politics got involved;
that's one way at looking at it."

Opponents characterize hemp as a cousin to marijuana; they say legalization
of hemp would send a mixed message to children.

Sen. Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate,
said Wednesday that she would encourage Lawfer to bring the issue up for a
vote. "I think we should run this up the flagpole," she said.

The bill passed 38-16 in the Senate and 72-43 in the House during the
Illinois General Assembly's regular session this spring, but Ryan vetoed
it. To override the veto, 35 votes are needed in the Senate and 71 in the
House.

Gary Knecht, president of Omniventures, a business group of farmers from
six southwestern Illinois counties who lobbied hard for passage of the hemp
bill, expressed disappointment that Lawfer had pulled it.

"We still hope that something positive will come out of this," said Knecht,
who farms in Madison County, "but at this point, we're not sure what will
happen."

Like others in Omniventures, he believes the bill was a first step toward
helping farmers to diversify crops and make money through hemp-processing
facilities in an era when commodity prices for corn and soybeans are low.

In a letter distributed to lawmakers Wednesday, a member of Omniventures,
Ned Behrensmeyer, who farms in Adams County, noted a study by the U of I
that estimates that Illinois farms will make an average of $23,899 this
year, compared with $51,130 last year.

"Agriculture is a vital part of our national security. Yet agriculture is
not healthy," he wrote. "We must have a more viable and diversified
agriculture. Our agriculture is based on a food paradigm. We need to think
about producing energy, plastics, paper, pharmaceuticals and more."

Behrensmeyer was particularly annoyed by part of the governor's veto
message citing several studies that said hemp was not economically viable.

"When did the governor derive the prerogative to decide what's profitable
and not profitable?" he asked. "That's not the role of the government.
That's for the free market to decide. There can't be any markets until
there's raw material available. Let's see what entrepreneurial free markets
can do."

But the bill's opponents say just the opposite: that studies can be done to
see if hemp is economically a good bet before one plant is grown.

Their main objection, however, is that hemp test plots are a back-door way
to eventually legalize hemp's botanical cousin, marijuana, which contains
the hallucinogen THC. Lawfer strongly disagrees with that viewpoint - in
fact, one of the studies is intended to produce a zero-THC hemp - but he
concedes that the view still has power.

Priss Parmenter, president of the Illinois Drug Education Alliance, said
her grass-roots group had not changed its stance from the regular session
to the veto session. "Our argument is no different," she said. "We are
about drug prevention. That is our mission, and we are still standing
strong against the bill. The DEA (federal Drug Enforcement Agency) hasn't
lessened their stand on the issue. It still sends the wrong message to
kids. We don't need another fuzzy area for kids to look at, because kids
will nail you on this stuff."

But to Bowles, those arguments ring hollow. She is mystified by opponents
who are not curious to see whether hemp can be a viable crop.

"What bothers me the most is, all I am asking for is to allow the
universities to study it, with the potential of getting an industrial hemp
plant that has zero THC," she said. "I'm just stymied by the fact that they
don't want to know."


Newshawk: chip
Pubdate: Thu, 15 Nov 2001
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Contact: letters@post-dispatch.com
Website: http://home.post-dispatch.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/418
Author: Jim Getz
Note: Kevin McDermott Of The Post-Dispatch Contributed To This Report.
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/hemp.htm (Hemp)