Pubdate: Fri, 15 Oct 1999
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 1999, New Haven Register


Knight Ridder


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Justice William Cooper noted that sugar looks a lot like
cocaine and wondered whether possession of sugar should be made a crime.

Chief Justice Joseph Lambert wondered whether you could distinguish between
a marijuana patch and a hemp field from a helicopter.

Thus did The Commonwealth of Kentucky vs. Woodrow Harrelson, a legal case
that began more than three years ago when the actor planted hemp seeds in a
rocky Lee County field, get its day before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

At issue: Whether the Kentucky law that considers hemp as illegal as
marijuana is too overly broad to be constitutional, or whether it is vital
to keep the state from being overrun by drug dealers.

While a decision from Kentucky's high court could be six months away, the
outcome could determine whether Kentucky farmers, once foremost in the
nation in hemp production, will be allowed to grow the crop again.

A lot has happened since that June 1996 day when Woody Harrelson, wearing
comfortable hemp clothing, wielded a grubbing hoe in a deliberate attempt
to get arrested and set up a test of the law.

By the time attorneys in suits presented their case to judges in robes
yesterday, three states had taken steps to allow farmers to grow hemp, a
cousin of marijuana that contains an insignificant amount of the chemical
that causes a high.

The three are Hawaii, Minnesota and North Dakota. Planting could begin late
this year in Hawaii if permits are issued by the federal Drug Enforcement

The Fayette County Farm Bureau recently passed a resolution that strongly
encouraged the General Assembly to make Kentucky the next state to legalize
hemp. That appears unlikely; a bill that would allow a university study of
the crop got nowhere in the 1998 legislative session.

Harrelson, an actor known for his roles in the TV series Cheers and in
various movies, was not in court yesterday. He was in New York preparing to
open in the play, "The Rainmaker.'

But his mother was there. And to the media crowd that covered the
arguments, that was almost as good.

She is Diane Harrelson, 62. She lives in Lebanon, Ohio.

Like her son, she was wearing hemp clothing. She carried a hemp purse. She
did not address the court, but after the attorneys and justices had their
say, reporters and television cameras crowded around her.

She talked about the agricultural and environmental attributes of hemp and
wondered whether the DEA "has better things to do" than confiscate Canadian
hemp seed that came into this country recently as bird food.

She also mentioned that she is just completing a master of science thesis
at Antioch College. The subject: The use of hemp for paper. It will be
printed on paper that is 50 percent hemp.

The arguments in the Harrelson case were heard yesterday at the University
of Louisville's Louis D.

Brandeis School of Law. It was only the second time the Supreme Court has
met in Louisville. The courtroom was overflowing with students.

In considering the case, the seven justices could follow two lower courts
and find the state law unconstitutional. Or they could follow the state
Court of Appeals, which said the matter should go back to where it began --
Lee District Court -- on a procedural matter.

Tom Jones, the county attorney in Lee County, argued that allowing hemp to
be grown in Kentucky would create a law enforcement nightmare because the
plant looks so similar to marijuana until the two are mature.

Harrelson's attorney, Charles Beal II of Lexington, said his client was not
trying to legalize marijuana in Kentucky.

But the law that lumps hemp with marijuana is not reasonable, he said.

Strictly followed, Beal said, the law could be used to shut down stores in
Louisville and Lexington that sell hemp clothing.

"Based on the way the law is written today," Beal said, "there are certain
copies of the Constitution that would be illegal if I possessed them in
this court."

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