Pubdate: Tue, 02 Mar 1999
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 1999 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Janet Patton, Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.


Mar. 3--Kentucky farmers won't be growing hemp this year -- not that
they had much serious hope of it anyway, they say.

Gaining the right to grow hemp was the goal of a civil lawsuit filed
in May, but U.S. District Judge Karl S. Forester has dismissed that
suit, ruling that the Kentucky farmers couldn't grow hemp because
state law forbids it.

Fayette County farmer Andy Graves, one of the plaintiffs, said he was
not surprised by the dismissal and that they will appeal.

"It's the same old tennis match we've been playing all along," Graves
said. "We thought this lawsuit would clarify some things."

In his ruling, Forester acknowledged the farmers' "frustrating
position. I As it now stands, Kentucky law must change if plaintiffs
ever want to grow hemp in Kentucky. However, in the present-day
climate, lawmakers are understandably hesitant to take any action
which might possibly be construed as being 'soft' on a substance that
is -- rightly or wrongly -- closely associated with marijuana."

But the judge never actually examined the law and how it affects hemp.
Forester ruled that the farmers do not have standing to challenge the
law that prohibits growing hemp because they are not being hurt by it.
And they are not being hurt by the law because nobody grows hemp.

"The federal government's position on hemp is clear -- it's illegal,"
said Rogene Wait, spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"I can't tell people how to go about changing the law."

Kentucky farmers and the 100-member Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative
Association filed the suit as part of what has become a two-pronged
assault on national and state policy that lumps industrial hemp with
marijuana as a controlled substance that's illegal to produce.

The farmers contend that if 27 other nations, including Canada, can
grow hemp for the industrial market, U.S. farmers should be able to
try their hands at something that was once Kentucky's major cash crop.

Changing Kentucky's hemp law is what hemp activists have been
attempting in state courts through actor Woody Harrelson's case.

Harrelson was arrested on a charge of marijuana possession in June
1996 after he planted four hemp seeds. Hemp activists challenged the
state law and its definition of hemp as marijuana before Harrelson
could go to trial.

District and circuit courts agreed that the statute was overly broad.
However, an appeals court decided those rulings were premature, and
sent the case back to district court to actually try Harrelson. The
case is pending appeal.

Plaintiff Graves said the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative had been a
leader in the movement nationwide to try to legalize hemp, but that
the state is falling behind.

The co-op is tracking pending legislation in 19 states, he said, that
would allow hemp to be grown if the federal government would permit

"We've got a political problem," Graves said. "I am frustrated with
it. There are a lot of people across the state who would like to try

But no farmer, including Graves, is likely to attempt growing hemp
just to try to change the law.

"I'm not really anxious to make myself a martyr," Graves said. "I
wouldn't want to criminalize my family. Perhaps that verges on being
timid. Somebody has to take a stand."
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