NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Three Hemp Activists Acquitted of Marijuana Cultivation


October 1995

Three men who planted hemp seeds during a protest in 1994 were acquitted of marijuana cultivation on August 24 (Richard Gelwitz, "Hemp Growers Found Innocent By Jury," Madera (CA) Tribune, August 25, 1995, p. 1; Joe Thome, "Madera County Jury Acquits 3 in Hemp-Growing Protest," Fresno (CA) Bee, August 25, 1995, p. A1; Richard Gelwitz, "Hemp Growers' Fate Now in the Hands of the Jury," Madera Tribune, August 24, 1995, p. 1; Richard Gelwitz, "Deputy Takes Stand in Hemp Growers Trial," Madera Tribune, August 22, 1995, p. 1; Associated Press, "Lawyer Draws Contempt-of-Court Warning in Hemp Case," Fresno Bee, August 17, 1995, p. B2; Richard Gelwitz, "Legal Setback For Three Accused Hemp Growers," Madera Tribune, August 10, 1995, p. 1).

Ron Kiczenski, Craig Steffens, and Douglas Weissman were acquitted of the charges stemming from a July 4, 1994 protest in which they planted 20,000 cannabis seeds in front of a sheriff's deputy. Kiczenski's effort to mail marijuana, hemp products and literature about industrial hemp to the White House has been reported in the Wall Street Journal.

The jury deliberated for one day before returning the verdicts. The foreperson said doubt arose from the testimony of an analyst from the Department of Justice about tests he conducted on the planted substance.

At trial, analyst Eugene Nash testified that visual and chemical tests he conducted proved that the substance was marijuana. According to the legal definition of marijuana, argued the defense, marijuana contains THC. Nash said he did not test for THC.

The jury also said they were unclear about testimony that the seeds were "sterile." Nash testified that seeds he placed in water sprouted. The defense argued that sheriffs destroyed the plants before it could be ascertained whether they would survive. The plants probably would have died soon after sprouting if they were allowed to live, they said. Even if they had lived, the plants would not have contained THC.

Weissman's attorney Michael Fannon said that members of the jury told him after the verdict that the prosecution did not prove that what the defendants planted was marijuana. [Office of Michael Fannon, 2115 Kern Street, Suite 260, Fresno CA 93721, 209-498-3414.]

After reading the verdict, the jury foreperson read a statement to the defendants:

... Our admonishment to you three defendants is that we are not sending you on a seed planting mission, but rather we suggest you pursue your cause through alternative methods. We hope you have grown through this experience and no longer utilize and pursue this type of method. You truly need to examine the implication of your actions more closely.

The defendants said after the verdict that it was a victory for free speech, but probably not for the hemp industry.

Defense lawyers had been prevented from bringing the issue of industrial hemp into the trial. Judge John De Groot had ruled that the jury could not hear that the protest was conducted to call attention to laws prohibiting the planting of industrial hemp in the U.S. During opening statements, Dr. Nancy Lord, 1992 Libertarian Party Vice Presidential candidate and defense attorney for Craig Steffens, held up an American flag and told the jury that the first flag was made from cannabis cloth. The judge dismissed the jury and issued a contempt-of-court warning to Dr. Lord. [Office of Dr. Nancy Lord, 1280 West Peachtree, Suite 310, Atlanta, GA 30309, 404-897-5336.]

If convicted, the defendants could each have faced three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Kiczenski said he is going to file a civil suit seeking to remove the Drug nforcement Administration's jurisdiction over hemp cultivation.