Hemp Needs Help: Organizers Say City Regulations, Bad Economy Threaten Hempfest

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Hempfest, 2006. Photo by Owl Jester.

Could the world's biggest celebration of ganja be gone-ja? (Now the article has its obligatory pot pun.) With a new administration that might be a little less drug war-crazy and hard times leading state governments to study the budget benefits of marijuana legalization, this should be a banner year for Hempfest. But festival organizers say banners may in fact be their undoing. That and the bum economy, of course.

The Parks Department, say organizers, is looking to collect $100 per "commercial banner," its standard fee for events. Hempfest organizers didn't pay the fees last year, and feel they shouldn't have to this year either, as they believe that the city isn't clear on what constitutes a commercial banner and that some of the fees may unconstitutionally suppress speech.

Of course, this isn't the first time the city and the festival have clashed: They fought over permitting in both 2006 and 2007. "I don't think the city is out to get us--they've been really fair to us, in general" says McPeak, who adds that "everyone's looking to get revenue" in the bad economy. "But the best way to stop a free speech organization is to raise their costs until they can't operate anymore."

Both the Parks Department and Hempfest say they are awaiting an opinion from the City Attorney's office on how the commercial banner rule should be interpreted; but neither the City Attorney's office nor the Parks Department has responded yet to SW requests for further comment.

McPeak says Hempfest cost $260,000 last year, and ended up $3,000 in the black. (It's a non-profit, all-volunteer affair, so the money goes back into the next year's festival.) But money's tighter this year. So he's calling for people to pitch in. "Nationally, we have a dialogue on decriminalization, regulation, and legalization that we haven't had in over thirty years. It would be a terrible time in the movement for Hempfest to go away."

Should you like to send a token of support to the supporters of tokin', you can do so via NORML.

 
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