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Woman Alters Dollar Bills to Make a Pro-Hemp Point

November 13, 1995 GMT

WOODSTOCK, N.Y. (AP) _ George Washington grew hemp, and Joy Beckerman wants to make sure you know. Her way of making the point, though, could get her in trouble.

At her Heaven on Earth hemp store, dollars given as change are stamped in red ink with little word balloons saying, ``I GREW HEMP″ next to Washington’s picture.

That caught the attention of police in this counterculture capital, and they told the Secret Service, which told Beckerman to stop. Not because of the message itself, but because it’s illegal to mutilate currency.

Beckerman, sitting in her store amid hemp twine, hemp paper, hemp shoes, hemp shirts and hemp shorts, said Monday that she’s not backing down.

``It’s the message we want to promote: that George Washington was a hemp farmer. He’s quoted in his diaries saying make the most of the hemp seed,″ the 25-year-old merchant said. ``Our forefathers were very hip.″

Washington really did grow hemp, but for rope fiber, not marijuana, said John Riley, historian at the first president’s home in Mount Vernon, Va.

After Beckerman’s store opened in May, Police Chief Paul Ragonense sent an officer to make sure she wasn’t selling marijuana. Then the department sent one of her bills to the Secret Service.

Defacing U.S. currency with intent to render it unfit for use is punishable by a fine and up to six months in jail, said Timothy Koerner, chief Secret Service agent in Albany.

Beckerman wants to sue the town for harassment _ not that she hates the police.

``They’re very nice,″ she said, but added: ``They’re extremely ignorant. Nobody told them they were doing the dirty work for industrialist pigs.″