Frankfort, Kentucky — The Kentucky Supreme Court Thursday derailed Woody Harrelson’s crusade to legalize hemp cultivation, ordering the actor to stand trial for planting four seeds of the marijuana relative in 1996.
In ruling against Harrelson, the court cited evidence that legalizing hemp would make law enforcement’s job too difficult because of the difficulty in distinguishing between it and potent varieties of marijuana.
Hemp, used to make textiles and rope, contains minute amounts of the drug THC that makes marijuana smokers “high.” Harrelson has become a vocal advocate for those who say the plant could become a helpful cash crop to hard-pressed farmers.
Harrelson, famous on television as the bartender in “Cheers” and for his roles in “Natural Born Killers” and other Hollywood films, said he planted the seeds in June 1996 to challenge the law and allow Kentucky farmers to grow hemp legally. He has said hemp was Kentucky’s leading cash crop 50 years ago and could be again, particularly for farmers wanting to abandon tobacco.
The Kentucky court disagreed, stating that “there was no evidence that hemp would ever be a successful domestic crop.
“In any event the economic benefits to be realized from hemp are not relevant to the constitutionality of the statute,” the court said in its 14-page ruling.
In overturning a lower court’s judgment that the statute was “over-broad and vague,” the panel of six judges suggested that the subject of legalization belonged in the state legislature, not the courts.
It said Harrelson must stand trial on two misdemeanor charges—one for cultivating marijuana and the other for possession. Guilty findings would not necessarily result in jail time.
A few states have agreed to grow experimental hemp crops and several more have financed university studies to examine hemp’s viability as a cash crop.
Harrelson has said one of his motives in seeking hemp’s legalization was to prevent further losses of old-growth forests to make paper and wood products.
The actor owns a California firm, Hempstead Co., that sells textiles made from hemp, which is also used in shampoos, paper and other products. The company must import raw hemp from China and Hungary.
Marijuana was outlawed in the United States in 1937, although hemp was widely grown during World War II to make rope and other materials. A group called the Kentucky Hemp Growers Association has filed suit in federal court against the law, arguing that Congress did not intend to ban hemp.
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