Beattyville, Kentucky — The legislature said hemp and marijuana are one and the same.
The state’s highest court agreed.
But five women and one man from Lee County said yesterday that actor Woody Harrelson didn’t break the law when he planted four hemp seeds four years ago in a grassy Lee County field.
The jury took only 20 minutes to find Harrelson not guilty of a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana.
“That wasn’t marijuana he planted, if he planted anything,” juror Sylvia
Caldwell said as she left Lee District Court with Harrelson’s autograph on a piece of hemp paper.
Outside the courthouse, a crowd of cheering, squealing fans waited for the 39-year-old actor in the dark hemp suit. They carried hand-lettered signs that said “We Support Hemp.”
The decision flew in the face of a law passed by the General Assembly in 1992 and upheld last March by a unanimous state Supreme Court.
It also ended a case that began on June 1, 1996, when Harrelson wielded a grubbing hoe to challenge the law, which does not distinguish between marijuana and hemp. The latter contains only a minute amount of the psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana smokers a high. Harrelson won initially in lower courts, but the state’s high court overturned the ruling. That set up yesterday’s trial, in which Harrelson faced up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.
Former Gov. Louie Nunn, one of Harrelson’s four attorneys, challenged the law in his closing argument when he held up a candy bar made from hemp seeds, then took a small bite.
“Now I’ve got it in me and I’ve got it on me,” he said. “If you think Mr. Harrelson should be put in jail for one year or one week or even one night, I guess we’ll be there together.”
Lee County Attorney Tom Jones said a videotape of Harrelson holding out the seeds before planting them, and his repeated statements that he was challenging the law, proved he knew he was committing a crime.
He asked the jury to convict the actor and give him the maximum fine and at least 30 days in jail.
“Mr. Harrelson has this coming,” Jones said. “He misused his fame.”
Jones also tried to suggest that Harrelson had another motive: Using legalized hemp as a steppingstone to legalized marijuana.
Harrelson testified that he supports legalizing marijuana, but said “it’s a totally separate issue.”
Jones said afterward that he respected the jury’s decision. He said Harrelson is a likable person. But he also said, “he’s guilty as sin.”
Nunn said he has never seen any of Harrelson’s movies and didn’t meet him until Tuesday. He said he took the case for free because he supports hemp as a crop for Kentucky farmers.
He told jurors that the authors of the Constitution set up the jury system as a safeguard against bad laws or biased judges.
“What’s important here today is to see the blessings of liberty guaranteed in the Constitution are carried out,” he said.
“What you do here today will go out all over this nation. It will say whether justice will prevail.”
Harrelson’s appearance in Beattyville created a stir. He was mobbed by autograph-seekers during several breaks in the trial.
They included Sylvia Sparks and her daughter, Teanna Glass, both of Beattyville.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen an actor up close,” Sparks said. “I saw Patrick Swayze when he was here, but that was from a distance. This was close.”
“I love all his movies,” Glass said.
After the verdict, Harrelson said that as the jury came back he was worried he might be heading to jail.
“Technically, I guess I violated the law from what the Supreme Court says the law is,” he said.
His hemp battle in Kentucky is over, Harrelson said. He turned the fight over to Nunn, who said that some legislators who support hemp have “political apprehensions” about voting for it.
Charles Beal II, another of Harrelson’s attorneys, suggested the law might still be changed to allow hemp cultivation in Kentucky.
“When the law changes, Woody would be the first to come back and plant it legally,” he said.
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