Persistence and patience often pay off.

Rep. Ron Lawfer, R-Stockton, hopes that's the case with his latest proposal
to study the feasibility of industrial hemp production in the Land of Lincoln.

House Bill 3377 is a revised version of an idea that Lawfer and Sen. Evelyn
Bowles, D-Edwardsville, have been pushing for more than a year. Lawfer
recently introduced the bill, and the House Higher Education Committee
approved it 10-3 on Wednesday, sending the measure to the full House.

A similar bill previously cleared the General Assembly, but Gov. George
Ryan vetoed it last month.

It is illegal to grow industrial hemp in the United States without
permission. In other countries, the plant's seeds and fibers are used to
manufacture clothing, shampoo and a variety of other products.

Lawfer and Bowles believe industrial hemp eventually could become a cash
crop for Illinois farmers who have been grappling with low commodity prices
for their stalwart crops, corn and soybeans.

"I think there's a lot of positives in it for agriculture," says Lawfer, a
dairy farmer.

Opponents, however, criticize the notion because they say industrial hemp
(like marijuana, its biological relative) contains THC, which induces a
"high." They say farmers should turn to other alternative cash crops and
that approving the industrial hemp proposal would send the wrong message to
young people about drug use.

Ryan raised those and other concerns when he rejected the earlier version
of the industrial hemp bill. But supporters of the plan aren't giving up
easily. They know that some pieces of legislation - like wine or cheese -
simply need to "age" before winning widespread acceptance under the dome of
the Capitol.

Whether the industrial hemp bill falls under that category isn't clear, but
history reveals other examples. One is dockside gambling, an idea that used
to pop up in the General Assembly about as often as the fake moles in a
"Whack-a-Mole" arcade game.

Dockside gambling finally became law in mid-1999, enabling the state's
riverboat casinos to stop cruising on the water and permitting patrons to
come and go as they please.

For years before that, though, dockside gambling legislation had a lot in
common with the plastic moles that "Whack-a-Mole" players smack with a
mallet. It would retreat into the shadows for a while, then emerge again later.

Another piece of legislation that managed to become law after years of
effort was the measure lowering the legal threshold for drunken driving in
Illinois.

Then-Secretary of State George Ryan and others scored a victory in 1997
when the General Assembly agreed to drop the 0.10 percent standard to 0.08
percent. But it took them six years to bust through the logjam that had
kept the proposal in legislative limbo.

Lawfer says his new industrial hemp bill is an attempt to address the
governor's worries about the earlier version.

The previous bill, for instance, called for the University of Illinois and
Southern Illinois University to study the feasibility of industrial hemp
production. The new bill excludes SIU because the U of I campus already has
a "semi-secure" area where test plots of industrial hemp could be grown,
Lawfer says.

Making that change in the legislation likely would mean spending less
public money on the study, Lawfer says. Ryan also had objected to its
potential $1 million cost.

Even with the revisions to his bill, Lawfer seems keenly aware of the
uphill battle ahead.

"The one issue that's hard to address, and is part of the educational
process, is the belief (that approval of this bill) sends a wrong message,"
Lawfer says. "That's extremely hard to overcome."

Adriana Colindres is a Statehouse reporter for Copley Illinois newspapers.


Newshawk: larry@mapinc.org
Pubdate: Mon, 19 Mar 2001
Source: State Journal-Register (IL)
Copyright: 2001 The State Journal-Register
Contact: letters@sj-r.com
Address: P.O. Box 219, Springfield, IL 62705-0219
Fax: (217) 788-1551
Website: http://www.sj-r.com/
Section: Opinion
Author: Adriana Colindres, Statehouse Reporter