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1996 | Woody Harrelson speaks to Kentucky elementary school students about hemp

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

Woody Harrelson with Simpsonville Elementary School teacher Donna Cockrel and her fifth grade class (1996).
Woody Harrelson with Simpsonville Elementary School teacher Donna Cockrel and her fifth grade class (1996).

The Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative (KHGCA) stirred national attention when members surprised Shelby County, Kentucky elementary school students with a visit from famous actor and environmentalist, Woody Harrelson. Donna Cockrel's fifth grade class at Simpsonville Elementary School thought they were celebrating the last day of school when Woody showed up, wearing a none other than a hemp shirt, hemp pants and "100% Kentucky Hemp" hemp hat.

Woody talked with students about industrial hemp and how it's different from its "controversial cousin," showing them products made from hemp, including hemp seeds (which were a banned substance in the state of Kentucky.)

Jake Graves spoke to students about his family hemp history in Kentucky, while KHGCA member and hemp activist, Craig Lee, brought the hemp seeds for show and tell. Joe Hickey, Executive Director, had developed a relationship with Woody and initiated his Kentucky visit.

While the kids were excited about the surprise visit, some Shelby County parents were not happy. Shelby County deputy sheriff, Audrey Yeager, claimed Woody Harrelson's presentation earlier that month had contradicted her anti-drug message to students. Ironically enough, Yeager had been scheduled to hand out trophies and certificates to students graduating from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education ("D.A.R.E.") program offered the same day.

After the visit to Simpsonville Elementary by Woody Harrelson, a series of events took place, from a hemp seed planting to a lawsuit between Cockrel and the Shelby County School District.

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



Isaacs, B. (1997, January 10). HARRELSON: HEMP'S CAPPED CRUSADER. Retrieved December 3, 2015, from

Robinson, R. (1997). 23: The People vs. Woody Harrelson. In The hemp manifesto: 101 Ways That Hemp Can Save Our World. Rochester, Vt.: Park Street Press.

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