Updated: Oct 6, 2021
At a high-traffic street corner in Lawrence, Kansas, Thomas Trower stood with a sign reading “Honk for Hemp.” Weekend after weekend. For decades.
Dressed in hemp from hat to shoes and standing a 15-minute walk from the University of Kansas, he’d hold an oversize thumbs-up sign when he got the desired honks.
Known around town as the “Honk for Hemp” guy, by the time Trower died — August 9 at age 70 — hemp was legal in Kansas. It was legal across the nation. But Trower wanted more.
‘Someone has to do it until it’s fully legal’
“Trower [...] continued to stand at the corner even after hemp was legalized in Kansas,” wrote Kim Callahan for the Lawrence Journal-World. "He said that his activism was not just about hemp but to support the legalization of all cannabis plants.”
He'd intended to continue his weekly ritual until recreational use of cannabis was legal in the state.
“It’s a futile and symbolic gesture,” he told the Journal-World, “but someone has to do it until it’s fully legal. I want the right to grow my own — any variety I want.”
Whether due to his influence or not, the City of Lawrence and the county in which it sits had in effect decriminalized possession.
According to Callahan, after the city commission reduced fines to $1 for first and second convictions of marijuana possession in 2019, the district attorney said he planned to stop filing criminal cases countywide.
“I do not feel it is fair or just for Douglas County to criminally charge citizens with something they can do with virtually no penalty in the City of Lawrence and other surrounding communities,” the Journal-World reported.
Inspired by the guy who lit a joint at police HQ
Born and raised in Topeka, Trower was first inspired to take to the Lawrence streets after another activist, Mark Creamer, was arrested for lighting a joint in the lobby of the city’s police department. That was 1989.
“Shortly after being jailed for the joint, Creamer and Trower started their weekly picketing downtown in 1990,” Callahan wrote. Although Creamer later moved to Colorado, Trower kept the tradition alive.
Neighbors and strangers pay tribute
In a follow-up piece for the Lawrence Journal-World, Callahan reported that Trower's friends had organized a memorial in his honor. Standing at his usual corner, the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets, they held his “Honk for Hemp” and “Save Trees | Free Hemp” signs.
“Hundreds of drivers honked not just once, but repeatedly,” Callahan wrote, “once for the cannabis cause and many more as a clearly emotional tribute to Trower, who had stood at the downtown corner for more than three decades dressed head-to-toe in hemp asking passersby to support his cause: the legalization of not just hemp but of all cannabis plants.”
They gave away Trower’s hemp clothing and hemp gloves, along with woven hemp bracelets.
“As for the locally famous signs,” Callahan reported, “[Trower’s neighbor Erica] Kellerman said they would be donated to Lawrence’s Cycle Works — a store that Kellerman said Trower ‘loved.’ She said she hoped that they would someday find their way into a museum.”