BEATTYVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) — A Kentucky jury has dismissed a marijuana possession charge against actor Woody Harrelson, who was arrested for planting hemp seeds as part of a crusade to legalize the plant and to help struggling farmers cultivate a new cash crop, his lawyer said Friday.
Harrelson, best known for roles in the television sitcom Cheers and in movies such as Natural Born Killers, ceremoniously planted four hemp seeds in rural Kentucky in 1996. His defense lawyers said he was challenging a state law that makes no distinction between marijuana and hemp, even though hemp contains very little of the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana and can be used to make a variety of industrial products.
Harrelson was immediately arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession.
The Supreme Court of Kentucky — a state where growing marijuana, though illegal, is a huge business — upheld a 1937 state law against growing hemp. It said the plant's similarity to the potent variety of cannabis put an undue burden on authorities trying to root out growers.
The Lee County prosecutor said Harrelson's stunt was punishable under the law and carries a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $500 fine. But after a one-day trial, the six-person jury deliberated less than half an hour before acquitting him Thursday.
"I think this demonstrates that at least six people disagree with our Supreme Court about what the law should be," Harrelson's attorney Charles Beal said.
"Several jurors commented afterward that they thought the law was absurd," he added. "But for now, at least, hemp is illegal under state law."
Harrelson and others have argued that hemp, which was one of Kentucky's leading cash crops up to 50 years ago, would be a boon to farmers, particularly the many tobacco growers in Kentucky whose traditional crop is becoming increasingly stigmatized.
Hemp can be used to make textiles, paper, soap, and other products.
Former Republican Gov. Louie Nunn, a member of Harrelson's defense team and a hemp supporter, said that Harrelson planted the seeds to challenge the law, not to break it. He said there was no evidence that any of the seeds germinated into a thriving plant.