Early this summer, Hempfest executive director Vivian McPeak says he was under the illusion that the marijuana community had recovered from the bruising rift over I-502 that turned last year’s pot festival into a battleground. Then he went to a SIFF screening of Evergreen , the documentary about the 502 campaign.
“There were people cat-calling on both sides,” he recalls. He also heard laughter and boos.
Now he says, “I think healing takes time.” So while he would like Hempfest 2013, which starts on Friday, to be a vehicle for that healing, he recognizes that tensions may flare up.
He’s not mistaken. Steve Sarich, a medical marijuana activist and provocateur, is already planning a protest on Saturday night outside a Hempfest fundraiser. The protest is aimed at NORML, the national group that is putting on the fundraiser. Sarich says he is angry about NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre’s dismissal of medical marijuana as a “sham” and “legal farce.”
St. Pierre has made those statements in the course of arguing that all marijuana should be legalized, but Sarich sees them as indicative of a willingness by NORML and 502 enthusiasts “to throw medical marijuana under the bus.” If anything, Sarich adds, the marijuana community is more divided than ever.
That’s saying a lot given the level of enmity displayed at last year’s Hempfest. Fierce debates broke out, people jeered as they walked by the 502 both, and the negativity spilled onto blogs.
Some perceived that Hempfest organizers took the lead in an anti-502 message. A comedian named Brett Hamil recently posted a YouTube video aimed at Hempfest, entitled: “Your credibility is cashed, bro.”
McPeak decries what he calls “disinformation.” True, McPeak says he initially had reservations about 502 because of, among other reasons, its tough DUI provision that many medical marijuana patients felt would prevent them from driving. But he insists that as soon as the initiative went on the ballot, he and Hempfest declared neutrality. The organization had polled its 100 members, and found that they were split 50/50 on the measure.
“I felt bloodied,” McPeak says of the way he nevertheless became a subject of controversy.
Unlike Sarich, McPeak says the worst is probably over when it comes to infighting. There’s reason to believe him. Most notably, many medical marijuana figures—including Hempfest’s chair of the board, John Davis—are diving into the recreational market created by 502.
McPeak is likely also right when he says that the internal squabbling is “off the radar” of most people who come to Hempfest. For them, he says, “it’s going to be a big victory celebration.”
And for those who want to light up to 502’s passage, take note. Hempfest is using the possession limit stated in the law—one ounce—as a guideline as to what it will allow onto the premises. That amounts to a baggie full of pot, McPeak says. The organization is, however, ignoring the 502 provision that prohibits using cannabis in public. Given the ongoing federal prohibition of pot, McPeak says Hempfest organizers still consider public consumption an act of “civil disobedience.”