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1996 | Hemp charges dismissed against Woody Harrelson

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

On Oct 30, 1996, a Kentucky Court heard Woody Harrelson’s Motion to Dismiss after planting hemp seeds in Lee County, Kentucky, and indicated that the General Assembly “arbitrarily removed a viable alternative crop, industrial hemp, from the possibilities available to Kentucky farmers.” (Charges are dismissed.) See full text of Woody Harrelson's legal hemp brief below.




NO. 96-M-00161




Comes the Defendant, Woody Harrelson, by counsel, and hereby submits his Brief pursuant to this Court's Order of October 30, 1996. Additionally, contemporaneous with the filing of this Brief, Harrelson is tendering to the Court a transcript of the hearing which occurred on October 30, 1996.

The Brief submitted by the Commonwealth on November 22, 1996 is correct insofar as it relies upon the testimony presented to this Court on October 30, 1996. (Note 1, The Commonwealth's Brief strays from the record before this Court on numerous occasions when it quotes individuals and documents which are not in the record before the Court. Specifically, Harrelson refers the Court to the Commonwealth's citation to Professor Robert G. Robertson paragraph 3, page 2; and DEA Agent Wayne Roques paragraph 2, page 6. Due to the fact that these individuals were not before the Court, Harrelson requests the Court to disregard those portions of the Commonwealth's Brief.)

However, a more thorough discussion of what transpired during the hearing on Harrelson's Motion to Dismiss is needed to adequately address the issues before this Court.


On June 1, 1996 Harrelson planted four industrial hemp seeds on a plot of land located in Lee County, Kentucky. The seeds planted were industrial hemp seeds certified to have a tetrahydrocannabinol ("THC") content of less than one percent by weight. (Transcript of Hearing, October 30, 1996, pp. 28-29)(hereinafter "TR"). Harrelson was arrested, charged with misdemeanor cultivation of marijuana and subsequently released on a $2,000.00 /10 percent bond. The Commonwealth subsequently moved to amend the charge to misdemeanor possession of marijuana in violation of KRS 218A.1422. On October 23, 1996 Harrelson filed a Motion to Dismiss contesting the constitutionality of the definition of "marijuana" found in KRS 218A.010(12). An evidentiary hearing on the Motion to Dismiss was held before this Court on October 30, 1996. (Note 2, An Agreed Order between the Commonwealth and Harrelson changed the venue between the Lee County situs of the alleged crime and the actual location of the hearing in the Owsley District Court.)

Woody Harrelson was the first witness presented by the defense. Harrelson stated that he currently resides in Costa Rica but is an American citizen and is a graduate of Hanover College, Indiana.

Harrelson testified that he planted four industrial hemp seeds in Lee County, Kentucky on June 1, 1996. Harrelson indicated that the seeds were certified to have less than one percent THC. (TR. pp. 28 29).Harrelson stated that he became interested in industrial hemp in 1991 due to the environmental advantages of industrial hemp. Harrelson stated that he is now a partner in a company known a Hempstead Company which is located in Costa Mesa, California. The Hempstead Company markets textile products and clothing products made with industrial hemp. Harrelson stated that gross sales from this company was $1.5 million dollars in 1995. All sales were made in the United States. (Id., p. 30).

Harrelson related that it was difficult economically to make a profit on industrial hemp products in the United States. He stated that it is mainly because industrial hemp cannot be grown legally in the United States and, therefore, all industrial hemp must be imported from other countries. Harrelson stated that his company has purchased at least $150,000.00 of industrial hemp on the world market in 1995. He stated that his company owned one of 180 stores currently marketing hemp products in the United States. (Id., p. 31).

Harrelson indicated that he had visited farms in England where industrial hemp is grown legally. Harrelson stated that there was no problem with the law enforcement officials in England concerning the growth of industrial hemp. (Id., p. 35).

All in all, Harrelson indicated that he had planted the four seeds in Lee County in order to test the constitutionality of the Kentucky definition of marijuana. Furthermore, Harrelson stated that he was trying to bring more attention to the issue by his participation in the marketing of industrial hemp.

The defense also presented the testimony of Dr. Varley Wiedeman. Dr. Wiedeman stated that he was Professor Emeritus of Biology from the University of Louisville and is currently the Science and Education Advisor at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Wiedeman indicated that Bernheim Arboretum Forest is the state arboretum of Kentucky that contains approximately 14,000 acres of land and is used as a research forest.

Dr. Wiedeman indicated that he has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Botany and a Masters of Science Degree in Plant Ecology from the University of Oklahoma. He also indicated that he possesses a Doctorate in Botany from the University of Texas in Austin. Dr. Wiedeman stated that he has taught botany at the University of Louisville for thirty-one years and is continuing to teach there on a part-time basis. Dr. Wiedeman defined botany as a study of plants. He defined plant taxonomy as the interrelationship of plants from one species or subspecies to another.

Dr. Wiedeman stated that a species is defined botanically as an interbreeding population of organisms that produce viable offspring. Dr. Wiedeman stated that a subspecies is a variety or a form of plant that is slightly different based on plant physiology. (TR, pp. 37-39).Dr. Wiedeman stated that he has extensively researched the plant known as cannabis. He stated that cannabis is a single genus within the family, cannabis E. Dr. Wiedeman stated that there are two major subspecies of cannabis; subspecies sativa which is commonly known as hemp, and subspecies indica which is commonly known as marijuana. (Id., p. 39).

Dr. Wiedeman related that hemp has been grown in the world from at least 4,000 B.C. He stated that hemp was brought to the United States in the 1700's and was a major cash crop in Kentucky by 1812. Dr. Wiedeman testified that the hemp fabric was the first fabric used for the production of denim and that much of the paper in this country in the 17th and 18th centuries was in fact made with hemp fiber. Dr. Wiedeman related that some portions of the original Constitution and Bill of Rights were written on hemp paper.

Dr. Wiedeman stated that hemp has many and varied economic uses today. He stated that the hemp oil can be used in paints, varnishes and also as a food source. He stated that the oil is also used in the cosmetic industry. Dr. Wiedeman stated that hemp fiber is the single longest continuous fiber that is grown naturally. He also stated that hemp fiber is extremely durable and is one of the most resilient fibers known. (Id., p. 40).

Dr. Wiedeman indicated that the two subspecies of cannabis are easily distinguished. Dr. Wiedeman stated that hemp can grow to twenty-five feet in height in maturity. He also stated that hemp had a tougher skin which was hard and "woody". The stem of the plant has a square shape. Finally, Dr. Wiedeman stated that the internode, i.e., the space between branches on the stem, in hemp is several inches apart. Significantly, Dr. Wiedeman stated that the THC content of industrial hemp is less than 0.3 percent of mass by dry leaf weight. (TR, p. 41).

Alternatively, Dr. Wiedeman stated that subspecies indica, i.e. marijuana, is a much shorter plant which only reaches four to five feet in height at maturity. He stated that the internodes were much closer together with a great deal more branching. Dr. Wiedeman also stated that the indica subspecies has a smaller stem.Dr. Wiedeman was also questioned about his knowledge of a plant known as kenaf. Dr. Wiedeman stated kenaf is a tropical plant which originated in India. He stated that it is not frost resistant and has difficulty growing in the state of Kentucky.

Dr. Wiedeman was specifically asked to review the definition of marijuana as contained in KRS 218A.010(12). (Note 3, KRS 218A.010(12) states that marijuana is: [A]ll parts of the plant cannabis sp., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant, its seeds or resin or any compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of these substances.) Dr. Wiedeman opined that the definition contained in that statute comprises the entire genus of cannabis. Specifically, he stated that "cannabis sp." means any species or any form of the genus cannabis. Therefore, the definition includes both subspecies. Dr. Wiedeman stated that based on this statute hemp or any part of the plant is illegal in Kentucky. Dr. Wiedeman was questioned concerning his botanical expertise and its relation to this statute. Specially, Dr. Wiedeman was asked: