ONCE AMERICA’S MOST LOVABLE DIMWIT on Cheers, Woody Harrelson has of late become a rebel without a pause. The actor, who stars as Hustler magazine’s sultan of sleaze in the forthcoming movie The People vs. Larry Flynt, withheld $10,000 of his taxes this year to protest the government’s logging-policy. He also tweaked the Archbishop of Canterbury recently in a letter objecting to the prelate’s recent comment that it’s okay to keep a child in line with a “gentle slap.” “How long,” asked Woody, “[do] I have to wait before I can start slapping my newborn?”
But mostly, the vegan environmentalist has been on his high horse about hemp. In June he invited the media to Beattyville, Ky., where he planted four hemp seeds. He was promptly arrested and eventually charged with the misdemeanor of possessing a controlled substance. (Five seeds would have constituted a felony.) Harrelson, 35, hopes to use his case to challenge the state’s ban on hemp, arguing that the plant has none of the kick of its cannabis cousin and, as a cheap source of materials used in paper and packing products, could help save endangered forests. Hemp, Harrelson notes, would also provide small farmers with an alternative to growing tobacco. “I came to this as an environmentalist; now I see it as an important crop issue,” he told a Kentucky court last month.
Harrelson, who could serve 12 months in jail if convicted later this fall, has put his money where his mouth is. He sponsored a state hemp essay contest for schoolkids (awarding $2,850 in October), established a college scholarship for students with an interest in hemp research and contributed to the Kentucky Hemp Museum in Campbellsville. Last year he also bought into the Hempstead Company, one of the country’s largest producers of hemp clothing.
Harrelson acknowledges that his nonstop crusading, combined with recent acting roles—most notably as a serial murderer in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers—may have turned off some of his fans. “God knows, I don’t want to alienate anyone anymore,” says Harrelson. “At the same time,” he adds, deadpan, “I find it hard not to.”