Updated: Jan 19, 2019
On August 24, 2000, actor Woody Harrelson was acquitted by a Lee County jury on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession, ending his four-year court battle in an effort to encourage the state to differentiate between hemp and marijuana.
According to reports, the six-member jury deliberated about 25 minutes before returning with its verdict.
Harrelson, who spent much of the day signing hundreds of autographs, could have been sentenced to a year in jail and fined $500 if convicted.
"I had the opportunity to talk to some of the jurors afterward, and, regardless of what the Supreme Court says and regardless of what thelegislators say, those people don't think it's right that someoneshould go to jail for growing industrial hemp," Harrelson said.
"To me, they're sending out a very strong message.
Harrelson planted four hemp seeds in 1996, knowing he would be arrested, so he could challenge the law outlawing possession of any part of the cannabis plant. Through three courts, he argued that the statute is unconstitutional because it does not distinguish between marijuana and hemp.
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled on March 23, 2000 that there is no difference between hemp and its narcotic cousin, and it declared that Harrelson had to return to Lee District Court for trial.
"I honestly didn't know which way it was going to go, and I was very nervous," Harrelson said. "When they said, 'Not guilty,' I actually crieda little bit." "I was afraid. There was a very real possibility of going to jail. Technically, I guess I violated the law, according to what the Supreme Court said."
Former Gov. Louie Nunn was on Harrelson's defense team. "Now it's time to start promoting the growth of hemp so we can havea great economic future in Kentucky," Nunn said. "We need to educate people about the distinction between marijuana and hemp."
Click the links below to learn more about the Harrelson and Cockrel trials: