The House Tuesday sent Gov. George Ryan a proposal to authorize two state
universities to research industrial hemp, a biological relative of marijuana.

The study is intended to shed light on whether industrial hemp could be a
viable cash crop for Illinois farmers. Low prices for corn and other crops
have caused farmers to struggle financially.

The House voted 67-47 for Senate Bill 1397, which the Senate approved last
spring. In November, the same legislation failed to attract enough yes
votes in the House. A parliamentary maneuver permitted Tuesday's revote.

A Ryan spokesman said the governor hasn't decided whether he'll sign Senate
Bill 1397 into law.

Even if Ryan signs the measure, hurdles remain before the University of
Illinois and Southern Illinois University could start growing and studying
hemp. For instance, the universities would have to obtain permits from the
federal government.

In addition, the bill doesn't include money to fund the study.

Rep. Ron Lawfer, R-Stockton, and Sen. Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, the
bill's main sponsors, estimate the study will cost about $800,000 to $1
million.

Opponents of the legislation have said it sends the wrong message,
especially to young people, about drug use. Opponents also have said the
Illinois legislation - and similar initiatives in other states - could lead
to the legalization of marijuana.

Priss Parmenter, president of the Illinois Drug Education Alliance, said
she was disappointed with Tuesday's House vote. The IDEA intends to urge
the governor to veto the bill and try to block funding for the study, she said.

Supporters of the proposal say they're merely trying to help farmers, and
that they aren't sending out a pro-drug message.

"I think we need another value-added crop for agriculture in Illinois,"
said Bowles, who wore a beige sweater made of hemp. "It's warm, it's nice,
it's very comfortable," she said of her attire.

Industrial hemp was grown in Illinois during World War II, but it may not
be grown legally in the United States now. It is, however, legal to buy
products made with hemp seeds or hemp fibers.

Lawfer said the universities will grow industrial hemp in a secure,
controlled environment - complete with security fences and video cameras

Newshawk: larry@mapinc.org
Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jan 2001
Source: State Journal-Register (IL)
Copyright: 2000 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/
Author: Adriana Colindres