Beattyville, Kentucky – A jury acquitted actor Woody Harrelson of misdemeanor marijuana possession charges Thursday, ending his four-year court battle to get the state to differentiate between hemp and marijuana.
Harrelson planted four hemp seeds in 1996, knowing he would be arrested, so he could challenge a law outlawing possession of any part of the cannabis plant. The jurors deliberated about 25 minutes before finding him innocent.
“Regardless of what the Supreme Court says and regardless of what the legislators say, those people don’t think it’s right that someone should go to jail for growing industrial hemp,” Harrelson said.
The Kentucky Supreme Court cleared the way for a trial when it ruled in March that there is no difference between the narcotic marijuana and its botanical cousin, hemp, which contains only minute amounts of the substance that makes marijuana smokers high, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
Lee County Attorney Tom Jones asked the jury to fine Harrelson the maximum $500 and give him at least 30 days in the county jail because the actor misused his fame to break the law.
“He could have come here and talked about school violence or domestic violence and tried to bring attention to those problems. Instead, he came here and broke a drug law,” Jones said.
Harrelson, who starred in “Natural Born Killers,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and the TV series “Cheers,” is a longtime environmental activist. He has invested in a hemp clothing company and argues that if paper manufacturers used hemp, there would be no need to cut down so many trees.
Hemp was once one of Kentucky’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 most legal production of hemp in the United States.
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