November 20, 2001
School That Fired Teacher Over Hemp Views Violated First Amendment Protections, Appeals Court Says
Award-Winning Teacher's Advocacy Motivated Firing, Justices Rule
Cincinnati, OH: A Shelby County, Kentucky public school district's decision to abruptly fire an award-winning fifth-grade teacher was motivated in part by her decision to speak to her class about industrial hemp, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati unanimously ruled last week. Their decision overturns a previous lower court judgment dismissing the teacher's First Amendment retaliation claim against the district.
The school district fired elementary school teacher Donna Cockrel in July of 1997 after she twice invited actor Woody Harrelson to speak to her students about alternative agricultural crops like hemp and kenaf. School officials had granted Cockrel prior approval to host both presentations, but distanced themselves from the matter after several parents from the community complained about the lecture's content. Superintendent Mike Mooneyhan later fired Cockrel, citing conduct unbecoming a teacher and other violations.
"The question [is] whether Cockrel was terminated for the exercise of her First Amendment rights. ... After examining the evidence, we conclude that a jury could find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendants' decision to discharge Cockrel was motivated, at least in part, by her decision to teach her students about industrial hemp," the Court ruled.
Justices added, "While many of the allegations made against Cockrel would, if true, amount to serious misconduct on her part, the fact that she was not disciplined for any of this behavior, nor did the Superintendent know of it, until after Harrelson visited and various members of the school community voiced their displeasure with the presentation, leads to a genuine issue of material fact concerning the defendant's assertion that Cockrel would have been fired regardless of her decision to speak on the environmental benefits of hemp."
Cockrel integrated hemp into her curriculum as part of an agricultural class about environmentally friendly crops. Since losing her job, Cockrel has been teaching elementary school in Detroit.
A documentary film about Cockrel's legal battle in Kentucky is scheduled to debut on the film festival circuit later this month.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.
Feds Hemp Food Ban Not Supported By Research, Study Says
Washington, DC: Daily ingestion of hemp oil and food products will not produce a "confirmed positive" drug test for marijuana, according to a study published in this month's issue of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology. The findings call into question the rationale behind recently enacted DEA regulations criminalizing the possession and manufacture of any edible hemp seed or oil products that contain trace levels of THC. Many experts believe that the new regulations came about, in part, because of concerns from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the drug testing industry that employees would purposely consume legal hemp products as a way to dispute positive drug tests.
Fifteen subjects participated in the study, which required volunteers to consume hemp oil of various THC concentrations daily for a period of ten days. Researchers then collected urine samples and screened for cannabinoids using federally approved gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) technology. Scientists reported that despite the consumption of as many as 600 micrograms (one millionth of a gram) of THC per day - a total far higher than would be expected in a non-laboratory setting - all 15 subjects tested far below the 15-ng/ml confirmation cutoff used in federal drug testing programs.
"Based on our findings, these concentrations appear to be sufficiently low to prevent confirmed positives from the extended and extensive consumption of hemp foods," authors concluded.
Eric Steenstra, national coordinator of VoteHemp Inc., a nonprofit organization that is contesting the federal hemp food ban, said the study definitively shows that self-imposed industry-wide standards (so-called "TestPledge" standards) for hemp seed and oil products "assure consumers that hemp foods will not interfere with confirmation drug testing."
He called the current ban "irrational," noting that "hemp seeds and oil have absolutely no psychoactive effect and are about as likely to be abused as [are] poppy seed bagels for their trace opiate content, or fruit juices because of their trace alcohol content."
For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation, at (202) 483-8751 or visit the VoteHemp website at: http://www.votehemp.com. For more information on the "TestPledge" program, please visit: http://www.testpledge.com.
Cops Bust Popular British "Cannabis Café"
Stockton, United Kingdom: Police shut the doors to Britain's increasingly popular Amsterdam-style marijuana coffee shop in a 20-man raid this afternoon, the Manchester Evening News reported. The bust came less than 24 hours after the UK's leading advisers on drugs announced that they will recommend Parliament legalize marijuana and regulate its sale through licensed, Dutch-style coffee shops.
Dutch Experience café co-owner Colin Davies and approximately 15 customers were taken in for questioning, the News reported. Today's bust marks the third time that local police have closed the café since its September 15 opening.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation, at (202) 483-8751.
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