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Bowles Defends Stance on Hemp Study

Posted on November 27, 2000

Anti-drug forces fear it will lead to legalization of marijuana.

Belleville, Illinois — Anti-drug forces in Illinois say they’ll continue their fight against a proposed $1 million study of hemp — a cousin of marijuana — with a new president who state Senator Evelyn Bowles can’t call one of the “ladies from Naperville.”

“My back is up a little bit when I’m treated like a little lady in the kitchen who should go home,” said Priss Parmenter of Mt. Carmel, the new president of Illinois Drug Education Alliance who lives on a large livestock farm and also works as director of an eight-county regional drug counseling program in southeastern Illinois.

The two presidents before Parmenter live in Naperville, an affluent Chicago suburb. Parmenter was elected November 20, a week after Bowles’ public “ladies from Naperville” remark.

But Bowles said Monday the name-calling started with IDEA.

“They have made, I think, some very scurrilous accusations against the supporters (of state-funded hemp research). In essence, they’re calling the supporters a bunch of druggies who support the growing of marijuana,” said Bowles, an Edwardsville Democrat.

Bowles and other Illinois supporters want research into hemp growing because its stalks are the source of many products, ranging from rope, shampoo and clothing to car and home building materials. Hemp-based products now are imported into the U.S. from 37 countries, including Canada.

A bill has been moving through the Illinois Legislature that would provide $1 million for a two-year feasibility study of hemp growing by agriculture departments at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and the University of Illinois in Champaign. It has passed the state Senate and has passed two of three required votes in the House of Representatives.

“The Naperville ladies have worked very, very diligently against the bill,” Bowles said. “Let’s find out (about the feasibility of growing hemp). Let’s not remain ignorant and uninformed.”

The bill has also been opposed by Illinois State Police, Illinois Principals Association and Illinois Church Action on Alcohol Problems, Parmenter said.

Hemp contains a small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that produces the “high” from marijuana smoking.

“You could smoke (a stalk of hemp) as long as a telephone pole and all you’d get is a headache,” Bowles said.

Parmenter said even a little THC is too much in a drug-saturated society, and IDEA has called legal hemp growing a calculated stepping stone to legal marijuana.

“If there is even a suggestion this could be detrimental to children, why are we doing it?” Parmenter said. “We don’t need another thing to be battling.”

A marijuana researcher at SIUC said she agrees with Bowles about the effects of smoking hemp.

“You’d get sick,” said research professor Laura Murphy. “There are negligible amounts of THC in hemp. They are considerably smaller compared to marijuana.”

Murphy said there are several types of cannabinoids and that hemp contains some that counteract THC and make it less potent.

Parmenter said there already is ample information that hemp farming, which requires special equipment, would not be profitable in the U.S. She said research money would be better spent on already-successful crops, like corn and soybeans, and on livestock farming.

The federal classification of hemp as a drug led in August to a Drug Enforcement Agency raid on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Nebraska, where the Oglala Sioux were growing hemp for house-building. Illinois classifies hemp, which grows wild in the state, a “noxious weed.”

Only Hawaii now has a federal permit to grow hemp for research.

Copyright © 2000, Belleville News-Democrat. All rights reserved.