Nobody was arrested in Starks last weekend for speaking out in favor of
legalizing marijuana. Nobody was prevented from exercising the right of
peaceable assembly.

This year's Hempstock concert-and-campout festival was in fact a pretty
subdued affair. Its organizers managed to remain in compliance of the
town's mass gathering ordinance, which requires a permit for events where
more than 750 persons gather for six hours or more.

Promoters of the festival got help from thousands of rock and pot fans who
simply stayed away from this year's celebration.

In the past, upwards of 7,000 concertgoers poured into tiny Starks
(population 500), tying up traffic, littering front lawns, trapping
residents in their homes and shattering their sleep long into the night.

This year, only a fraction of the usual crowd showed up. No more than 649
camping tickets were sold for the event. Except for a few traffic and drug
violations, the crowd was reportedly well behaved. Performers turned down
the volume at 10 o'clock each night.

One of those who did not show up for Hempstock XII was its chief organizer,
Maine Vocals leader Don Christen. He was under court order to stay away as
a condition of bail because of a disorderly conduct charge left over from
last year's concert.

Christen's compliance is somewhat surprising. His contempt for judicial
rulings is well known. And he has never conceded the right of state or
local officials to place restrictions on the festival, arguing that such
regulation interferes with his constitutional rights of free speech.

The argument is disingenuous at best. Nobody is interested in stifling
debate about the legalization of marijuana and other drugs.

Three decades ago, Maine was one of the first states to decriminalize
possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Four years ago,
Maine voters approved a medical marijuana law by a nearly 2-1 majority. And
earlier this year, the Legislature quietly passed a bill doubling the
amount of pot that patients may legally possess.

True, the Maine laws are still in legal limbo because of prevailing federal
drug restrictions. But the point is, this state has a strong history of
tolerance for relaxed drug regulation ... and zero tolerance for
restricting political debate of any kind.

The Hempstock controversy has never been a battle about political rights.
Mostly it's been a battle about the right of Starks residents to get a good
night's sleep, to move freely about their own town and not to be threatened
by strangers trespassing on their property.

Pubdate: Wed, 21 Aug 2002
Source: Morning Sentinel (ME)
Copyright: 2002 Morning Sentinel