Undercover police officers arrested 18 people Saturday during the
Jacksonville Hempfest, a festival espousing the legalization of marijuana,
at the SeaWalk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach.

Ten people were charged with possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana,
Jacksonville Beach police said. Officers arrested the people in the
festival area after observing them "with what appeared to be marijuana
cigarettes," police said.

The other eight people were charged with drinking in public.

To casual observers, the event looked like a typical beach festival at the
SeaWalk Pavilion -- music, merriment and meandering spectators.

But it was a festival with a cause -- the legalization of marijuana for
medicinal purposes. Event organizers Scott Bledsoe and Mike Johnson of the
Cannabis Action Network said they were pleased.

About 1,000 people attended, and the organizers' message was
enthusiastically received.

"We want to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, so doctors can
prescribe it," said Johnson, wearing a large marijuana leaf lei around his
neck and a matching bandana around his head. "This is not for recreational
use, although a lot of people think that."

Hempfest was at Hemming Plaza in downtown Jacksonville last year, and at
Metropolitan Park the year before. Johnson said this year's location was
better "because a lot of people don't know about the event and they run
into it coming to the beach."

Jacksonville Beach was the original site of the Jacksonville Hempfest,
beginning in 1998.

Bledsoe, Kevin Aplin and the Cannabis Action Network sued Jacksonville
Beach in 1998, claiming that its special events policy, which included a
permitting requirement for "family oriented" events that encouraged
attendance by families, children and senior citizens, violated their free
speech rights.

U.S. District Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger ordered a permanent injunction,
saying that the city's policy created a chilling effect on free speech rights.

The city since has revised its special events policy so that it's "content
neutral" about the type of events held.

On Saturday, most participants were college-age, many dressed in bathing
suits and drinking beer. But they were clear about why they were there.
Periodically, between band performances, Bledsoe made speeches about why
marijuana should be legalized and the beach blanket crowd on the green in
front of the stage cheered him on.

"I think they need to bring it [marijuana use] more in the open," said Amy
Huffman, 19, of Jacksonville Beach. "Alcohol was also thought of as illegal
at one time."

Not everyone there was college-age. Russ Marshall, 77, of Jacksonville sat
under a palm tree on a cooler, listening to the music. He appreciated the
entertainment but had mixed feelings about the message.

"It [marijuana] distorts your mind," he said. "I don't want anything that
can hurt somebody. This can. But in some cases, it can help someone who's
ill. You got to think both ways."

Many spectators visited vendors selling tie-dyed T-shirts, hemp jewelry,
pro marijuana bumper stickers and hand-blown glass pipes. John DuRocher, a
vendor from Orlando, said he was impressed with the turnout.

"I've been to a bunch of Hempfests in Oregon," he said, adding that as many
as 7,000 people would turn out for a three-day event. "It's more liberal
out there, more open use."

Pubdate: Wed, 24 Apr 2002
Source: Florida Times-Union (FL)
Copyright: 2002 The Florida Times-Union
Contact: tuletters@jacksonville.com
Website: http://www.times-union.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/155
Author: Maggie FitzRoy