Read Student Brian Simpson’s Letter:
November 7, 2007
212 Meadow Croft Circle
Birmingham, AL 35242
Shelby County Board of Education
410 East College Street
Columbiana, AL 35051
To the members of the Shelby County Board of Education:
I am a proud senior at Oak Mountain High School. On August 16, 2007, I was forced to remove my shirt that read “Widespread Hemp / Don’t Panic, It’s Hemp” and told to never wear it again. After I questioned the reasoning for this ruling, Mr. Vines explained to me that because the shirt promoted hemp, which he stated is associated with marijuana, that it would be promoting a product prohibited by school policy and therefore, unlawful according to Section O. of Dress Code Policy on page 13 of the Shelby County Code of Conduct. Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that hemp is marijuana, although they are two different genetic variants of the species Cannabis Sativa L.; just as a wolf and a Chihuahua are genetic variants of the species Canis Lupus. I will try to make my point brief, although the issue is complex, as I know your time is limited and valuable.
The message on my shirt refers to industrial hemp, not to marijuana. The shirt’s reference to industrial hemp is obvious, not only by the fact that the shirt itself is woven of hemp fiber (the possession of which is entirely legal in the United States of America), but most importantly, because of its message of “Don’t Panic, It’s Hemp” on the back of the shirt. This phrase could be correctly translated as “Don’t Worry, This Shirt Is Made Of Hemp” meaning that the production of the shirt did not harm the environment, for example, by the use of pesticides, as cotton does, but instead the shirt is woven of a material that is recyclable, sustainable, and biodegradable. Because the message on the shirt promotes industrial hemp, a product that is not prohibited by school policy, it cannot be included in Section O. of the Dress Code Policy, and therefore, I believe the wearing of the shirt at my school is entirely lawful.
I strongly support industrial hemp because of its economical and environmental benefits and see my shirt as a tool to educate by engaging discussion on the issue. I cannot understand this attempt to silence such education in the educational facility of Oak Mountain High School. The banning of my shirt is not only a violation of my freedom of speech, including political speech, ensured to me by the First Amendment and affirmed in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 89 S.Ct. 733, 21 L.Ed.2d. 731 (1969), but also unlawful according to page 3 of the Shelby County Code of Conduct which states that students have the right “To form and express viewpoints through speaking and writing in a manner which is not obscene, slanderous, libelous, or disruptive to the educational process.” The political speech printed on my shirt is in no way obscene, slanderous, libelous, or disruptive. Unlike the recent Supreme Court Case of Morse vs. Frederick, which limited student’s freedom of speech, my message does not in any way promote illegal drug use.
I originally appealed Mr. Vines’ ruling to the Administrative Team, who decided to delegate the decisive authority to the Student Services Department. After a month of no response, they finally decided to return the decisive authority to the Administrative Team. The Administrative Team then decided to enforce the previous ruling that prohibits the wearing of any shirt with a written message containing the word “Hemp” on it; they also decided to include the words “Industrial Hemp” in this ban. Although in the beginning of this ordeal my principals believed hemp to be marijuana, they have since recognized the difference, yet state that the shirt should still be banned because the average student could interpret the shirt to refer to marijuana, as they originally did. I do recognize this unfortunate ignorance in our community, but do not find it as reasonable grounds to infringe upon my constitutional rights. This ignorance is the exact reason I so passionately persist in educating individuals on industrial hemp.
I have attached the following documents that I ask you to read to ensure your understanding of the situation: a letter from Mrs. Doyle documenting the policy, my letter to Mr. Vines, an email from Mr. Tom Murphy (the National Outreach Coordinator for Vote Hemp http://www.votehemp.com) to Mr. Vines, an article by Dr. David P. West, Hemp and Marijuana: Myths & Realities and a paper by Dr. Shannon L. Datwyler and Dr. George D. Weiblen, Genetic Variation in Hemp and Marijuana (Cannabis sativa L.) According to Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms. These documents not only express my personal viewpoints, such as my letter to Mr. Vines, but also present scientific and legal facts on hemp. After giving Mr. Vines the article by Dr. West, he recently expressed to me that he feels he was “ignorant” of the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana; and that he now understands the difference and credits this enlightenment to the article. I hope that if you are not already aware of the difference, the article will do the same for you. If you would like any more information on industrial hemp, please feel free to contact Mr. Murphy or me. I sincerely thank you for your time and hope that you will reinstate my right to express my views on industrial hemp by overturning the previous ruling and allowing to wear my shirt. If not, I will certainly respect your decision, but as I stated in my letter to Mr. Vines, I am morally obligated to challenge and appeal the banning of my shirt until my rights are reinstated.
Cc: Superintendent, Randy Fuller
American Civil Liberties Union