Saturday, August 22, 2009

Regarding Hemp rallies, the many ways in which I am wrong!

Many very thoughtful and passionate friends wrote directly to me (or posted on their blogs) to disagree with all or part of my concern that hemp rallies are not good politics for our movement. Others agreed with part of what I said, with important caveats. Since their reactions were not posted directly among the more than a dozen comments to the original blog post (with more being added), about a dozen posts are included below. Where I have made comments they are in brackets [like this], and I have added hyperlinks and identifications.
Several posts are powerful evidence that I was wrong. And when two distinguished public figures in the State of Washington use the Hempfest to publish an op-ed in The Seattle Times, it is clear that as far as Seattle and Hempfest go, in many respects I was wrong. (I can only hope that one-one hundredth of the time and effort that went into the Hempfest is directed into organizing the state to support the legislation referred to at the end of this post.)

Dear Eric,
Having just returned from Hempfest (which was more work than pleasure for me) I read your critique of hemp rallies with interest. You are certainly right that hemp rallies are useless as political events. However, I don't share the view that they are actually politically harmful. IMHO, they are simply irrelevant, like any other public party - Music in the Park, a World Series celebration, Oktoberfest, Halloween, the 4th of July, a NASCAR rally.

This year's Hempfest was probably the biggest such event in history. By most accounts, there were 100-150,000 attendees on the first day alone, filling up a space that had been extended 30% beyond previous events. The crowds on Saturday were overwhelming to the point of suffocation. It is a testimony to the pacifying effects of cannabis that there wasn't a riot - there would have been if alcohol had been present.

But that isn't the point. What's important is that this enormous event generated negligible adverse publicity (outside of the ARO list, of course!). The Seattle media treated it with their routine annual coverage. Myriads of local hemp devotees rallied in the park; locals who dislike MJ didn't attend; and that was that. The net impact on public opinion was zero. Along with many other attendees, I personally found the event useful in making connections with other activists, picking up new information, and surveying the medical marijuana scene in Washington - though, to repeat, the suffocating crowds were an ordeal. But I don't see how any damage was done to the cause of drug reform.

Nor do I think that railing against hemp rallies will do any good. People like to get together to party and smoke dope, and there's nothing you nor I nor all the anti-pot laws in the world can do to stop them. That's one powerful lesson that can certainly be drawn from Seattle Hempfest. And that in itself is an argument for changing the laws - when so many people so flagrantly disregard the laws with such minimal public harm, the laws need to be recast to reflect social reality.

So I think your phobia about hemp rallies is overblown. You have amply articulated your own good reasons for avoiding them. It is a tribute to your own serious dedication to drug reform that you don't want to waste your time with them. Certainly, they are useless for political organizing (it's too bad Hempfest doesn't even make enough money to donate to the movement). But, hey, it's Americans practicing their rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and they have every right to do so.

One final note: I take it as a good omen that this year's Hempfest was so well attended. That means that more people than ever are actively interested in cannabis. And, as with alcohol prohibition, I think the prohibition of drugs will only be reversed when more people show interest in using them.
- Dale Gieringer [California NORML]

Eric specifically mentioned the 39th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in his message, and Dale stated, "Certainly, they (hemp rallies) are useless for political organizing "

I have to disagree. Harvest Fest has been a beacon of organizing in WI. With our mmj [medical marijuana] bill, the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act expected to be rolled out right before HF39 [Harvest Fest 39], we intend to use it to rally for the bill and use it to get patient's voices into the media. Over the last decade, HF has become a very medical focused event, with media reports focusing on that angle.

For WI and the Midwest, Harvest Fest fills a lot of roles, both political and organizational as well as social, informational and a reunion of like-minded folks.

Gary Storck

Unfortunately, Chris [Conrad] and I didn't make it to the Seattle Hempfest this
year. We had to stay here to work on production of the Fall 2009 issue of West Coast Leaf newspaper, the latest expression of our activism (see the current online version at

That said, I think that while Eric makes some valid points in his post, I also disagree with his assessment of the harms. The press in Seattle tends to be very positive. Hempfest provides a great opportunity to disseminate information and network with activists and the masses, as Dale mentioned. They are good places to register voters (which they've done in the past). But, most importantly, they are a cultural phenomenon. Cannabis consumers need a place to express ourselves and our culture, those of us with Pot Pride, much like the Gay Pride parades (yeah, they may scare middle America with how they express themselves in those parades, and you know they aren't going to end them, because they serve a purpose).

We need to show that there are thousands of us, like-minded people, who deserve a public place to be together, to demonstrate our right to assemble, to not have to hide in shame in our closets, to assert our freedom and equal rights, to have fun, and this is good for our souls. There is strength in numbers, and the people who still go to these hempfests leave knowing that they are not alone, that the organizers are competent, serious people, and that there are many ways to get involved with the movement if they choose. The fact that they have been very peaceful, huge events, speaks well of our movement.

This is also a weekend of tolerance by the police, which also serves an important purpose for our society.

And, I agree with Emma Goldman, a respected political writer and activist, who said (although maybe not quite in these words, "If I can't dance, I want no part of your revolution."

Mikki Norris
Managing Editor, West Coast Leaf
Director, Cannabis Consumers Campaign

[Read this excellent account of Goldman's life. Goldman was a spell-binding lecturer and drew enormous crowds (like Hempfest?). The Wikipedia article notes, "Two years later Goldman began feeling frustrated with lecture audiences. She yearned to 'reach the few who really want to learn, rather than the many who come to be amused.'" The article adds,
In 1973 Shulman was asked by a printer friend for a quotation "by Goldman for use on a t-shirt. She sent him the selection from Living My Life about "the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things"; the printer created a paraphrase that has become one of Goldman's most famous quotations, even though she herself probably never said or wrote it: "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution."[170] Variations of this saying have appeared on thousands of t-shirts, buttons, posters, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, hats, and other items.[171] Although the words are not explicitly Goldman's own, they capture the spirit of her belief in personal liberty and self-expression."]

I have spoken at a few hemp fests of various sorts. I don't think I converted any conservative Republicans with my speeches. However, I always run into people who are interested in marijuana but were only dimly aware of the reform movement. It is a chance to get them involved, and I have seen them become involved more than a few times.

I also think they are a demonstration of the size of the untapped business market. If you really want to make them effective, figure out how to capture all that potential business in a focused direction.

Cliff Schaffer
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Schaffer Library Hemp Pages
Marijuana Business News dot com

If hempfests are politically insignificant it's probably because people who want that to change do nothing to change it, other than to talk about it, or simply abandon them altogether. I'm not going to the 39th Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in October to smoke pot. I can smoke pot here in NJ if that's what I want to do.

I am going to Madison for the same reason that I go every year. To do whatever I can to get people to help get a medical marijuana bill passed there. I remember two years ago when I implored the attendees, from the steps of the Capitol building (where no pot was being smoked) to fill out a postcard asking their Senator and Assembly representatives to support the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Bill. A couple of hundred did so, many sheepishly apologizing for not being involved until then. Two days later a small group of us "reformers" took the collated postcards to the state legislators' offices and used them to open a dialogue with staffers, and is some cases to talk with the legislator himself (herself). I greatly enjoyed walking into office after office and saying that I was there to talk to the appropriate staffer about Wisconsin's medical marijuana bill. When I was invariably asked "are you a constituent?" I would reply "I'm not even a Wisconsin
resident, but I have a postcard from a constituent(s) asking you to talk to me about Wisconsin's medical marijuana bill". That changed everything. We didn't share a joint then. We shared a conversation about the realities of medical marijuana. AND...the legislators and staffers couldn't see whether the constituent request came from a tie-dye shirted constituent or not. It was delivered by someone in a suit and tie (me), and not a tie-dye tie.

I understand Eric's logic and can see where image can be a problem. I chose to do something about that as best as I can. I will be doing that again in Madison this year rather than throwing in the towel and not attending any more festivals. I mean...what good would THAT do medical marijuana patients? Having just written all of this, I can say that writing about marijuana reform is certainly easier than physically doing something about it. If all I did was write about it I would undoubtedly have a much easier time staying in New Jersey rather than traveling to Wisconsin.

If I got paid for either life would be sweet. Thanks to Gary and Ben for paying for my way there. But then again...they know why I am coming, to be politically significant.

Jim Miller
[Jim at a memorial for his wife Cheryl Miller at the State Capital in Trenton, NJ. NORML's announcement of the passing of Cheryl Miller in 2003.

Ditto Cliff.
I firmly believe that about 20-25% of the population are so deeply into prohibition they will never be converted no matter how much logic/emotion/posturing or whatever combination we apply.
To some degree, they are a tail wagging the dog and most politicians do not want to piss off this fanatic minority. This is why something as simple as medical mj has most often had to be settled by ballot initiatives rather then appealing to elected officials. Hopefully this will change in our lifetime.
On an anecdotal level, I was born in 1951 and took my first toke of herb September 1970. I did not quit like other people, just quietly went into the closet until 1992. That is when when I decided to check out "Hash Bash" in Ann Arbor. I realized then I was not alone, and gradually got more aggressive in my reform advocacy over the years.

Best Wishes,
Tim Beck
[Tim has been one of the most important leaders of the reform movement in Michigan. EES]
[EES -- I spoke at the 1992 Hash Bash... Tim's post may be the most pointed rejection of one of my main theses.]

It is easy for well funded, self proclaimed leaders of the drug reform movement (one of whom wore a jester's hat at a rally in the early 90's on Boston Common) to chastise rallies with an elitist rant.

MassCann does not promote the civil disobedience, that would be a violation of the Court order that permits it to happen, as organizers are enjoined from inciting unlawful behavior.

Without the Boston Freedom Rally, which has introduced a whole generation of Boston area college students to the "movement" and alternative candidates for office I dare say the "movement" would not be where it is today nationally as these students get involved and move on to other areas of the country. There would have been no Question 2 in Massachusetts as there would have been no MassCann, an organization of volunteers, without a sugar daddy, to lay the foundation. In 2011 when we expect the same money that paid for Question 2 will be conducting a mmj initiative in Massachusetts our event will, as it was in 2007, be the unofficial, and if the people with the money want to share credit the official, kick-off of the signature gathering campaign. It is an event at which with enough petitioners, one-fifth to one-quarter of the signatures needed to put a question on the ballot can be obtained in six hours.

Instead of contributing to bringing us together rants like Eric's are divisive.

Attorney Steven S. Epstein
Clerk, Treasurer and Database Manager
Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition\NORML
A State Affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Proud Sponsor of Freedom Rally XX, Sept. 19, 2009 on the Boston Common
P.O. Box 0266, Georgetown, MA 01833-0366
781-944-2266 -
"We shall by and by want a world of hemp more for our own consumption."
John Adams as Humphrey Ploughjogger, 1763

Radical Russ Belville who spoke and performed at Hempfest had this detailed and passionate rebuttal of my post on the NORML Daily Audio Stash! I am confident, that despite the context, that Russ's jokes about "Yo Mama" in the comments to his denunciation of my post were not directed at my mother.

While I understand and even agree with many of Eric's arguments, the fact remains that: (1) the organizers of events like Hempfest, Freedom Rally, Million Marijuana March, etc. are going to keep doing what they're doing and (2) people keep enthusiastically attending these events. Are movement leaders going to keep boycott these events? The attendees are a ripe target for education (both political and legal, since many of them are breaking the law by attempting to use controlled substances in public) and political mobilization.

Although many people are there just to party, I've met quite a few who were honestly curious and thankful that reform orgs were there to protect and educate. Let's not write these crowds off as source for new DPR activists.

Doug Greene

The only thing I disagree with is that ALL rallies encourage this behavior. I can understand why some partake at the rallies as they may feel it is one of the few times they will not be judged harshly---even by enforcement. I believe that even if folk did not partake the general media and paranoiacs would portray reform the same exact way, they just would not have photo ops.
Mary Barr

(11)And in a most embarrassing renunciation of the entire point of my argument, from the op-ed pages of The Seattle Times:

Time for Washington state to decriminalize marijuana

The Washington Legislature should enact Senate Bill 5615, which would reclassify adult possession of marijuana from a crime to a civil infraction, write guest columnists Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, and former state Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland.

By Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Toby Nixon
Special to The Times

ONCE again, the Seattle Hempfest drew tens of thousands to parks along the waterfront this weekend. In its mission statement, the all-volunteer organization that produces the event says, "The public is better served when citizens and public officials work cooperatively in order to successfully accomplish common goals."

We agree. That is why we, as a Democratic state senator and former Republican state representative, support state Senate Bill 5615. This bill would reclassify adult possession of marijuana from a crime carrying a mandatory day in jail to a civil infraction imposing a $100 penalty payable by mail. The bill was voted out of committee with a bipartisan "do pass" recommendation and will be considered by legislators in 2010.

The bill makes a lot of sense, especially in this time of severely strapped budgets. Our state Office of Financial Management reported annual savings of $16 million and $1 million in new revenue if SB 5615 passes. Of that $1 million, $590,000 would be earmarked for the Washington State Criminal Justice Treatment Account to increase support of our underfunded drug-treatment and drug-prevention services.

The idea of decriminalizing marijuana is far from new. In 1970, Congress created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. A bipartisan body with 13 members - nine appointed by President Nixon and four by Congress - the commission was tasked with conducting a yearlong, authoritative study of marijuana. When the commission issued its report, "Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding," in1972, it surprised many by recommending decriminalization:

Possession of marijuana in private for personal use would no longer be an offense; and distribution of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration or insignificant remuneration not involving profit would no longer be an offense.

Twelve states took action and decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s. Nevada decriminalized in 2001, and Massachusetts did so in 2008. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, states where marijuana possession is decriminalized represent more than 35 percent of our nation's population.

These states have not seen a corresponding increase in use. Nor have the 14 states that have adopted legal protections for patients whose doctors recommend the medical use of marijuana. Nor the several cities and counties that have adopted "lowest law enforcement priority" ordinances like Seattle's Initiative 75, which made adult marijuana use the city's lowest law enforcement priority in 2003.

On the flip side of the coin, escalating law enforcement against marijuana users has not achieved its intended goals. From 1991 to 2007, marijuana arrests nationwide tripled from 287,900 to a record 872,720, comprising 47 percent of all drug arrests combined. Of those, 89 percent were for possession only. Nevertheless, according to a study released earlier this year by two University of Washington faculty members:

* The price of marijuana has dropped;
* Its average potency has increased;
* It has become more readily available; and
* Use rates have often increased during times of escalating enforcement.

We now have decades of proof that treating marijuana use as a crime is a failed strategy. It continues to damage the credibility of our public health officials and compromise our public safety. At a fundamental level, it has eroded our respect for the law and what it means to be charged with a criminal offense: 40 percent of Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. It cannot be that 40 percent of Americans truly are criminals.

We hope that the citizens of this state will work with us to help pass SB 5615, the right step for Washington to take toward a more effective, less costly and fairer approach to marijuana use.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Seattle, left, chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee. Toby Nixon was state representative for the 45th legislative district, 2002-2006, and served as vice-chair of the House Republican Caucus and ranking member of the House Committee on State Government Operations and Accountability.

[The irony of this important op-ed as a rejection of my thesis did not escape who wrote "So much for Eric Sterling's rant and rave"].

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Robert Sharpe said...

Hempfests, smoke-ins, etc, introduce budding activists to the larger movement. Seeing Eric Sterling speak at a July 4th White House smoke-in in the early 90's inspired me to take activism to another level.

Frank H Lucido MD said...

Before putting my activist energies into the medical cannabis issue, I worked heavily on ending nuclear weapons testing on Western Shoshone land.

After a particularly large event in April 1992, we had a meeting at my house to thank the volunteers who helped, and we did a "go around" for introductions, and comments on what worked and what didn't.

A a couple of the volunteers made and repeated the charge that the image of "pot-smoking hippies" may turn off others from supporting the cause.

My dear departed friend, Western Shoshone elder and spiritual leader Corbin Harney, eloquently stated at his turn:
"If the pot-smokers didn't come, nobody would help".

(FYI: In accordance with the written guidelines against drug and alcohol use at our staging area, Peace Camp, marijuana was never used publicly, but only in designated "guideline-free" zones.
And by the way, the Department of Energy has not exploded another nuclear device since then.
Thank you for pot smoking!)

Frank H. Lucido MD
Family Practice since 1979
Medical Cannabis Consultation
Expert Witness
2300 Durant Avenue
Berkeley Ca 94704
510.848.0958 (by appointment only)