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Woody’s Case Up in Smoke

Posted on March 23, 2000

By Mark Armstrong, E! Online

Neo-hippie activist Woody Harrelson’s latest hemp cause has apparently gone up in smoke.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled today that the former Cheers barkeep and cultivation-friendly film star must stand trial for marijuana possession, following his well-publicized arrest for planting four hemp seeds in 1996.

This latest ruling appears to be the end of the roach, er, road for Harrelson, who challenged the state over its laws putting industrial hemp in the same stoner league as its narcotic cousin, marijuana. His case rolled through three different courts, but the (inappropriately named) high court ruled there’s no legal difference between the cannabis kin. The People vs. Larry Flynt star must now go back to Lee County and face possession charges.

Just because marijuana has more of the high-inducing substance, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the justices say, it doesn’t make the law unconstitutional. “The mere fact that hemp may contain less THC than marijuana is of no consequence,” Justice Donald Wintersheimer writes.

The court also writes that the free-spirited Woody should argue his cause before the General Assembly, not the courts, to change the laws. A Kentucky statute makes possession of any cannabis plant illegal, and Harrelson could face a $500 fine and up to 12 months in jail if convicted.

Harrelson’s lawyer, Charles Beal, says that, although the decision wasn’t totally unexpected, it’s still a setback in the actor’s ongoing fight for industrial hemp.

“It’s been a very long, drawn-out battle, and he feels very strongly about this,” says Beal, who adds that Harrelson may decide to stand trial and plead guilty rather than try again with the Supreme Court. “We were hoping for a better decision, but as far as I know we’ll still be taking this fight up.”

Harrelson, meanwhile, always insisted his feather-ruffling wasn’t about making pot legal, but turning hemp into a viable crop to make clothing and paper. He’s invested in a hemp clothing company and he continues to tout the weed’s potential for saving old-growth forests.

“I came to this initially as an environmentalist; now I see it as an important crop issue for farmers,” Harrelson said at the time. “One hundred and fifty years ago, hemp was the leading cash crop in Kentucky, and in my mind I don’t see any reason why that can’t be the case again.”

Although Harrelson is not involved directly, Beal says other activists are expected to meet with a state subcommittee today in the ongoing push to legalize industrial hemp.

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