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High Court Says Harrelson Must be Tried for Marijuana Possession

Posted on March 23, 2000

By Mark R Chellgren, Associated Press

Frankfort, Kentucky — Actor Woody Harrelson today lost his battle to draw a legal line between industrial hemp and its narcotic cousin marijuana.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled there is no difference and said Harrelson has to go back to Lee County to be tried for possession of marijuana.

Harrelson planted four hemp seeds in 1996, knowing he would be arrested so he could challenge the law outlawing possession of any part of the cannabis plant.

Through three different courts, the star of “Natural Born Killers” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” has argued the statute is unconstitutional because it does not distinguish between marijuana and hemp, which contains only minute amounts of the substance that makes marijuana smokers high, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.

“The mere fact that hemp may contain less THC than marijuana is of no consequence,” Justice Donald Wintersheimer wrote.

The state Supreme Court said Harrelson should be making his argument in the General Assembly, not the courts.

Harrelson’s trial for possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor that carries a potential fine and little possibility for jail time, has been put off pending his appeals. After one earlier hearing on his case, Harrelson said he was prepared to stand trial to continue his fight.

Defense attorney Charles Beal said Harrelson holds strong convictions about the environmental and economic benefits of hemp.

“I suspect we’ll end up going to trial,” Beal said.

Prosecutor Tom Jones did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Harrelson has invested in a hemp clothing company, and he touts hemp’s potential for saving America’s last old-growth trees. He has argued that if paper manufacturers used hemp instead of trees to make paper, there would be no need to cut down the nation’s forests.

Kentucky is an ideal battleground for hemp advocates because hemp was once one of the state’s leading crops. In the 1800s it was used to make rope and sails, but anti-drug laws, the availability of other fibers and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 wiped out production in the United States. However, some farmers did grow hemp during World War II under federal license.

Copyright © 2000, Associated Press. All rights reserved.