Saturday, March 31, 2001

Louie Nunn

Bluegrass hemp fight has an ally

        What's gotten into Louie Nunn? Last time I saw the former Kentucky governor, he was rhapsodizing about his hero, Richard “Tricky Dick”Nixon, at a 1996 memorial service in Eastern Kentucky.

        Now he's hanging with Woody “balding actor dude” Harrelson. He's delivering bales of hemp to the South Dakota Sioux in defiance of the feds. And his name keeps popping up on Web sites like

        Who knew a Nixonite would go all crunchy on us? Apparently, hemp makes strange bedfellows, not to mention indestructible bed linens.

He's "mellowed'
        Mr. Nunn, 77, was Kentucky's most recent Republican governor, serving from 1967-71. Besides raising the sales tax, he called out the National Guard to stop Vietnam War protesters at the University of Kentucky.

        Now he's the state's No.1 hemp promoter, a cause usually associated with, well, pacifist hippie types.

        “He seems to have mellowed somewhat in his post-office years,” observes John Ed Pearce, the Kentucky writer.

        Yeah, just a little.

        These days the former governor is plugging hemp as the state's best alternative to tobacco. Problem is, it's illegal. Kentucky law doesn't distinguish between hemp and its relative, marijuana, even though only marijuana contains enough THC to carry a Cheech and Chong movie.

        “Frankly, I was opposed to the legalization of hemp for years because I had been of the opinion hemp was marijuana,” the former governor writes. “I was short-sighted in my thinking, and I was wrong.”

        He notes the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. He argues, persuasively, that police in other countries can and do distinguish between hemp and pot.

        This is a fine cause but not one I would have associated with Louie Nunn. Perhaps he's gone a bit daffy.

        As evidence, there was the bizarre dust-up between Mr. Nunn and his wife, Beula, who filed for divorce from her hospital bed at the age of 81.

        She was trying to protect some of the estate for her children, she said. The former governor claimed cancer had clouded her judgment, but Mrs. Nunn kept foiling the plan by acting perfectly sane.

        She got her divorce and, sadly, died soon after.

Rebel with a cause
        Mr. Nunn, a lawyer, went on to represent Mr. Harrelson when the actor showed up in Lee County to noisily plant four hemp seeds. Mr. Harrelson was acquitted. At trial, the former governor nibbled on a candy bar made with hemp.

        Then there was his visit to South Dakota last year. At the foot of Mount Rushmore, Mr. Nunn handed over bales of hemp to Milo Yellowhair of the Oglala Lakota Nation, whose own crop had been confiscated by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

        It's all a bit surreal, but at least Mr. Nunn happens to be right on this one.

        The Kentucky General Assembly finally approved a bill this month that breathes life into the cause. State universities are now allowed to study industrial hemp as a potential agricultural crop. A commission will monitor the research and make recommendations to the governor by December.

        Perhaps Mr. Nunn will celebrate with some more hemp candy bars. But let's keep him away from the other stuff, OK?

       Karen Samples can be reached at 859-578-5584 or


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