1996 | Woody Harrelson defends Cockrel

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

After the school expressed interest in revoking Donna Cockrel's teaching certificate, Woody Harrelson issued a statement in to clarify his purpose for promoting hemp and to testify to Donna's character. The following text was printed in the Lexington Herald-Leader Commentary page on September 30th.


Actor takes hemp seriously

By Woody Harrelson

On May 30, 1996 I and several of my industrial hemp colleagues visited Donna Cockrell's fifth grade class at Simpsonville Elementary as part of the school's "Agriculture and Environment in the Classroom" program. The purpose of this visit was to educate her class on industrial hemp, a promising alternative crop for Kentucky farmers.

I am concerned that my visit has generated a good deal of controversy, and am particularly disturbed that Cockrell has come under scrutiny from the school board.

During her time as a teacher, she has received well-deserved praise and many awards. I came away from my time with her wishing that I had had a teacher with as much energy, passion and dedication when I was in the fifth grade. To have her job on the line because she took the time to educate her students about a crop that once was, and may again be, important to Kentucky farmers, is absurd. We should celebrate a teacher with her vision.

Shelby County D.A.R.E. officer Deputy Audry Yaeger made the statement that we sent a confusing message to these students and undid a lot of what her program accomplished. On the contrary, we sent a factual message to her students. If they were being educated to think that industrial hemp and marijuana are the same thing, then they are considerably less confused than they were before Cockrell invited us to speak. And through all this controversy, who has stopped to ask the students themselves if they are actually confused? I can tell you they were getting a very clear message that day. Had Deputy Yaeger been present in the classroom it might have been a bit of an eye opener for her as well.

Here are some of the facts:


Kentucky was one of the leading producers of hemp until a yellow journalism campaign brought about the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This act, which was not supposed to effect production of industrial hemp, nonetheless helped bring about its demise. Corporations made billions from their involvement in the wood-based paper industry.


These countries include China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, England, and most recently, Australia and Canada. All of these countries have strict drug control laws, some more severe than in the United States, yet they have experienced no trouble with industrial hemp production. They have worthwhile testing and seed certification programs that we would do well to use as models.


These include paper, clothing, fuel, lubricants, detergents, cosmetics, paints, plastics and fiberboard. Imagine paper that does not cost the lives of hundred-year-old trees and does not require toxic chlorine bleaching. Imagine clean-burning fuel for our cars that does not foul our oceans and our air. Imagine plastics that, if not recycled, are biodegradable. It does not take too much imagination, because these products exist and are already being produced. But it will take overcoming inappropriate concepts, which brings me to the next fact:


Marijuana is smoked to get high. Hemp, on the other hand, is a non-psychoactive variety of Cannabis sativa which has less than 1% THC (the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana). Smoking a field of hemp would not get your dog high.


First, hemp seeds are planted very close together. The resulting plants have little foliage and a hemp field is virtually impossible to walk through. (hemp is used as a natural fence in Europe.) A bushy marijuana plant would be easy to spot on the edge of a spindly-stalked hemp field.

Second, low-THC industrial hemp is genetically dominant over marijuana and cross-pollination would weaken the potency of any nearby marijuana.

Third, unless grown for seeds, industrial hemp is harvested before the plants begin flowering. Any marijuana plants in the field would be destroyed during the harvest, weeks before developing the high-potency buds sought by drug users.

And fourth, the hemp crop is inspected and tested while it is growing and any suspicious plants could be analyzed for THC content.

Finally, I feel it is very important to tell Deputy Yaeger that I do not consider her and the people she represents my enemy. Many times I have wished for a person like Yaeger, who stands up for what she believes in and fights for her children's future, to be a part of the industrial hemp renaissance.

Yaeger's circle of friends is strong and skillful. But my circle is also strong, energetic and not going away. Should we contribute to this sea of enmity, this taking sides and name-calling? Or should we perhaps sit down together over a meal and try to forge an understanding, a unified "we" that can deal with this issue intelligently and civilly.

Yaeger's desire to help kids stay away from drugs is admirable. I too am concerned for children and the world they will inherit.

That is why I desire to end worldwide dependence on wood-based paper, which costs the lives of billions of trees annually, 70% of which come from virgin forest.

I will be in Kentucky soon and look forward to sitting down with Yaeger and hearing her concerns and any suggestions she might have. In the meantime, please be fair to Cockrel. She too stands up for what she believes in and is working to make the future better for children. She deserves to be treated as such. (end)

WOODY HARRELSON, an actor, was arrested in June after he planted four hemp seeds during a visit to Kentucky to speak at the International Conference of Industrial Hemp. Harrelson's trial on the misdemeanor charge is scheduled for Oct. 25 in Lee County. He hopes the case will test the state law that makes no distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana.

PICTURE: Woody Harrelson talked with fifth-graders in Donna Cockrel's class about hemp's potential economic benefits

for the state.

PICTURE: Harrleson planted industrial hemp seeds in June as Lee County Sheriff William "Junior" Kilburn stands ready to arrest him.

Click the links below to learn more about the Harrelson and Cockrel trials:

1996 | Woody Harrelson speaks at Simpsonville Elementary

1996 | Woody Harrelson arrested for planting hemp in Kentucky

1996 | Donna Cockrel investigated after Woody Harrelson hemp presentation

1996 | Kentucky Hemp Museum & Library launches mobile exhibit

1996 | Woody Harrelson launches hemp essay contest

1996 | School trys to revoke Donna Cockrel's teaching certificate

1996 | Woody Harrelson defends Donna Cockrel

1996 | Woody Harrelson announces hemp essay winners

1996 | Charges dismissed against Woody Harrelson for Kentucky hemp planting

1997 | Kentucky Hemp Museum takes Harrelson, Cockrel and essay winner to movie premiere

1997 | Parents protest against Woody Harrelson's scheduled second visit

1997 | Court finds statute "overbroad" after Harrelson charges are dismissed

1997 | Woody Harrelson makes second visit to Simpsonville Elementary

1997 | Parents want Donna Cockrel fired after second Woody Harrelson hemp presentation

1997 | School Evaluation Claims Donna Cockrel Fails to Meet Performance Requirements

1997 | Kentucky General Assembly Hears Testimony On Hemp

1997 | Donna Cockrel is fired from Simpsonville Elementary

1997 | Woody Harrelson issues statement regarding Donna Cockrel's termination

1998 | Cockrel files suit against Shelby County schools

1998 | Farmers sue to overturn ban on hemp

2000 | Kentucky Supreme Court rules no distinction between hemp and marijuana

2000 | Woody Harrelson acquitted of hemp charges

2001 | Court reverses decision in Donna Cockrel vs. Shelby County schools

2003 | Donna Cockrel receives $70,000 settlement