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Hempfest 2003 - Rally Calls For Reform Of Marijuana Law For 22nd Straight Year



The 12th Annual Hempfest packed Myrtle Edwards Park with an estimated
175,000 people last weekend for what organizers and other sources say is
the world's largest rally to reform marijuana laws.

The festival is billed as a nonpartisan, political event, but a smattering
of impeach Bush signs dotted a landscape filled with food and craft booths,
music stages and huge, sun-baked crowds of people, some of whom discreetly
puffed away on grass.

The festival's theme last year was Pot Pride, with everyday citizens being
encouraged to publicly admit they use marijuana. This year's theme was
using hemp as fuel, said Vivian McPeak, executive director and founder of
the Hempfest, which began in Volunteer Park as a "smoke-out" in 1991.

Festival organizers chose hemp fuel as a theme "after seeing a war arguably
fought over oil," he said. But using hemp to make biodiesel fuel that can
power car engines wasn't talked about very much.

Neither was Initiative 75, which would place prosecution for marijuana
possession at the bottom of the priority list for Seattle police and
prosecutors. "It's on the ballot, and we're feeling good about it," McPeak
said. "We've got our fingers crossed."

The initiative is opposed by King County Prosecutor and Magnolia resident
Norm Maleng, while it is supported by, among other politicians, State
Senator and Queen Anne resident Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

But the Sensible Seattle Coalition, which is spearheading the I-75
campaign, decided to take a low-key approach at the Hempfest, McPeak said.

That doesn't signal political backpedaling on the part of Hempfest
organizers in the dozen years since the festival began, he stressed. "We've
gotten ever fiercer in our political tone."

However, there were practical, demographic considerations for not promoting
I-75 at the gathering, according to Hempfest director Dominic Holden. "When
you look at who votes in the primary, they are predominately over 65 and
overwhelmingly over 50," he said.

The crowds at Hempfest fall mostly in a younger age range, Holden noted,
adding that the influence of the festival extends past just Seattle.
"Increasingly, the Hempfest has become a national event, and we wanted to
talk to people about events that affect the whole country."

Pumping Hemp

For example, the proposal to use industrial hemp as a source of fuel is one
that has national and international implications, according to Holden.
Echoing McPeak, he said the war in Iraq was fought in part to bring
democracy to the oil-rich Middle Eastern country. "But I think many of us
realize there's an underlying interest in maintaining access to
petroleum-based fuel."

Converting hemp to biofuel could eliminate the need, Holden said. If 6
percent of farmland in America was converted to hemp production, the
resulting crop could provide enough bio-diesel fuel to make the country
completely independent of foreign oil, he said.

Biodiesel is also a clean fuel that doesn't pollute the air as petroleum
does, and it's a renewable resource, Holden added. However, the federal
government makes no distinction between growing smokeable pot and
industrial hemp, which lacks psychoactive ingredients, he said. "The THC
content is so low you'd never get high."

Hemp oil has already been used to power a 1983 Mercedes Benz turbo diesel,
which was renamed "Hemp-car" and toured the country and Canada in 2001,
Holden said. Rubber hoses on the Mercedes engine had to be replaced because
biofuel can eat through them, but no other mechanical changes had to be
made to burn the hemp-based fuel. "It smells like you're cooking French
fries," he said of the exhaust.

The Bong Ban

In past years, crafts at the Hempfest included pipes, bongs and the
occasional hooka. Last year, those sales generated around $20,000 for the
Hempfest, which cost around $180,000 to stage this year, McPeak said. But
the organization's legal staff recommended against allowing those sales
this summer, he said.

That's because the federal government recently passed the Anti-Drug
Proliferation Act. Also known as the RAVE Act, McPeak said, the legislation
spawned Operation Pipe Dream and Operation Head Hunter in Washington state,
where retailers and wholesalers and retailers of drug paraphernalia such as
bongs were targeted for arrest and prosecution.

"We believe challenges to this law will be successful," Holden said. In the
meantime, he said, it was in the best interests of everyone at the Hempfest
not to risk a confrontation with legal authorities.

McPeak predicted the RAVE Act will be struck down on constitutional
grounds. "When the law is changed, we'll have the biggest head shop in the
whole freaking world," he told an enormous crowd gathered at the main stage
on Saturday afternoon.

Rally NORML-ized

Also speaking to the large crowd at the main stage was Keith Stroup,
founder and executive director of the National Organization for Reform of
Marijuana Laws (NORML).

"I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with smoking pot," he said, "and
it's time we stopped being treated like criminals." There is an arrest
every 44 seconds in this country for marijuana offenses, which amounted to
724,000 busts last year, Stroup said.

Of those, 89 percent were for simple possession, he said, adding that
around 100 million Americans have admitted that they've smoked pot. "We
have declared war on a whole sector of our population, and there's no
reason for it."

Three out of four people in the country believe those caught for pot
possession or use should be fined, not arrested or jailed, according to
Stroup. "We have won the hearts and minds of the American people" is how he
put it.

McPeak agreed. A recent CNN Money Line poll revealed that 91 of those who
responded thought marijuana should be legalized, he said. "We are winning
this battle."

It hasn't been an easy fight, according to Holden, who told the crowd he no
longer smokes pot. "We battle against the forces of darkness who have
denied us our constitutional rights," he said of the Bush White House.

Star Treatment

While Holden no longer smokes grass, it was obvious to everyone in the
crowd that guest speaker and TV and film star Woody Harrelson had indulged
quite a bit before he showed up at the Hempfest almost an hour past his
scheduled time slot.

The well-known marijuana activist also ragged on the Bush White House,
saying it was time for people to step up and say "the little shrub
monkey's" drug policies are wrong.

Harrelson told the crowd they might get the impression from the Bush
administration that those opposed to marijuana laws are a minority in the
country. "I would say it's the majority," he said. "Let's figure out
together what we can do to change things, and they need to be changed."

McPeak said some people shouldn't smoke pot. "It's not for everybody." But
those who do smoke grass are not criminals, he insisted, and they should
fight for their rights. "We are Americans, and we have a history of
demanding our freedom when it's denied," McPeak noted.

Pubdate: Wed, 20 Aug 2003
Source: Queen Anne and Magnolia News (Seattle, WA)
Copyright: 2003 Queen Anne and Magnolia News
Contact: qanews@nwlink.com
Website: http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?brd=855
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