September 11, 2000 12:00 PM

It’s no secret that Woody Harrelson is high on hemp—as an environmental cause, that is. He calls the fiber, a form of cannabis, “a miracle plant” and dresses in hemp clothing. But his latest crusade to legalize it nearly landed the actor in prison duds. In 1996 Harrelson publicly planted four hemp seeds in Beattyville, Ky., attracting a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession for which he faced up to a year in jail.

Now he can finally exhale. On Aug. 24 a six-person jury in Beattyville deliberated for just 25 minutes before returning a not guilty verdict. Harrelson had intended to challenge a 1992 statute equating marijuana with hemp. But the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled against him in March, paving the way for a trial. The jury saw it differently. “He was innocent because he never intended to possess marijuana,” said his attorney Charles Beal. “Six people saw this law as absurd.”

Make that seven. A hemp advocate since ’92, Harrelson argues that as a cheap material used to make paper, fabric and oil, the plant could help save forests and provide struggling tobacco farmers with an alternative crop. “Our economy has been hijacked by corporations who are raping the earth,” he says. “We have to change it. That’s why hemp is so important.” Still, the law against it remains on the books. Though hemp contains only trace amounts of the mood-enhancing drug THC, “in the field, hemp and marijuana cannot be distinguished,” explains Lee County prosecutor Tom Jones. Legalizing it, he adds, “would wreak havoc.”

Harrelson, however, is undaunted. Done with Kentucky, for now, he’s heading to Pine Ridge, S.Dak., where he claims federal authorities recently mowed down a hemp field on Lakota Sioux land. Vows the crop crusader: “I’m gonna help them sue the DEA!”

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