• Looking Back at Seattle Hempfest 2012 and The I-502 Debate

    by  • August 22, 2012 • Blog, Russ Belville

    After the band, Philip Dawdy was speaking.  “Y’all need to vote no on I-502,” he intoned, “five nanograms [of active THC per milliliter of blood] is an unscientific, unproven measure of impairment.  It’s arbitrary and it will result in every medical cannabis patient in this state and everybody who smokes pot every day facing a DUI for doing what we do now safely.  Who wants a DUI?”  Some in the crowd react with a loud “No!” but as he continued, one tall shirtless young man came quickly rushing toward the stage and jumped over the crowd barrier, yelling something about DUIs.  “Oh goodie,” Dawdy responded without dropping a beat, “somebody wants to come up here and fight me!  Awesome!  I played NCAA hockey, son, I don’t like your chances.”  Despite my intense disagreement with him, I have to give him credit for being a good public speaker with a great take-down of a heckler.

    The guru of ganja, Ed Rosenthal, also spoke from the Main Stage in opposition to I-502.  He told the compelling story of Daisy Bram, a young mother in California who had her children literally ripped from her breast by police serving a no-knock marijuana warrant.  “If 502 passes… wait… 503?” he asks someone on the side stage, who holds up two fingers, “502… if 502 passes, if you’re growing marijuana, or you’re just using marijuana, they will still come to get your kids.”  Ed fails to explain how that very scenario happened to Daisy in California now, under prohibition, and could very well be happening in Washington State right now, before I-502, and that after I-502, “just using” under an ounce of marijuana wouldn’t cost you your kids.

    The featured speaker of the day from the Main Stage was Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein, who made a rousing speech in support of ending the Drug War, as well as other tenets of the Green Party platform that are pro-environment, anti-war, and for the new green hemp economy.  Following her talk, Kaliko and I spoke with her for about ten minutes and thanked her for her support of our cause and for appearing on our show.  I explained how in our community, there is a lot of support for her and for Libertarian candidate Gov. Gary Johnson because of their drug war stands, but on many other topics, Greens and Libertarians couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.  It would be a disservice to our community, I continued, if they didn’t know more of your positions so they could make an informed vote, and I invited her to be on with Gov. Johnson for a show after the Democrat/Republican debates to speak to the issues they raised.  She enthusiastically agreed and we’ll be setting that up with her campaign and reaching out to Gov. Johnson’s.

    To close out the night was the annual Hempfest Speakers’ and VIP Party, held in the Hemposium area.  There was an open bar with microbrews and wine, as well as limeade and water for us non-alcoholic drinkers.  Volunteers walked through the crowd with trays of tasty (non-medicated) treats.  Most impressively, a man and woman well-trained in acrobatics and yoga performed compelling a set of stunts that kept the crowd mesmerized.

    During the party Kaliko and I schmoozed with the many movers and shakers from the cannabis community in attendance.  Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo and I waited together for limeades.  Georgia Moms 4 Marijuana’s Sharon Ravert got into an intense debate with anti I-502 activist Don Skakie.  Moms’ founder Serra Frank found her friend and protege Compassionate Idaho’s Lindsey Rinehart, who just dropped a new medical marijuana initiative for the Gem State.  Media maven Cheryl Shuman made the rounds, as did MPP founder Rob Kampia.  Representative from the West Coast marijuana movement were in abundance, but the Midwest was well-represented by Michigan NORML leader Matt Abel, the East Coast’s HIGH TIMES crew of Danny Danko, Rick Cusick, and Elise McDonough flew in from New York and NORML’s Dr. Keith Saunders and Cara Crabb-Burnham flew in from Boston, and the South was represented by Sharon and attorney Tanya Burgess.

    I spoke with many people who complimented me on my coverage of I-502.  The Stranger’s Dominic Holden told me, “You get into such detail on these things that I just can’t bring up with a mainstream audience.  They’re like, ‘what, there’s legalization on the ballot and pot smokers are against it?’  Thank you for breaking it all down; when people ask me for details I just send them to the stuff you wrote.”

    And then, wandering around the tent, a figure I didn’t immediately recognize extended his hand to shake mine.  I reflexively shook his hand a split second before the dawning realization that the man was Steve Elliott, who I had just viciously savaged in a recent column calling him out on his vulgar demonization of people who oppose him in his comments section and misogynist comments about my friend Jodie Emery.  “Hey Russ,” he said, and then followed up with some snarky comment I didn’t quite catch about me being the biggest reader of child porn, something I suppose he was referencing from Mickey Martin’s column savaging me for my savagery.  I had opened my column by referencing Steve’s employer, Village Voice Media, being complicit in the ongoing sex trafficking of under-aged girls, mostly in a fit of anger designed to say, “See what it feels like when people attack and demonize you, and not the issue?” (after all, of 4,700 words in the column, only the first paragraph mentions this).  Mickey took me to task for this by opening with some lines about me knowing people who like child porn, so it’s unclear what my involvement in child porn is, which would have been a fantastic metaphor if I was taking a paycheck from someone who was facilitating child porn.

    Another young man, who happened to be Paul Holmes, the son of the Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, approached me, still wearing his Yes on I-502 t-shirt.  He, too, expressed gratitude for my writing on I-502 and then said the line of the night.  Looking out at the VIPs and Speakers who had naturally segregated into sections of tables and crowds of supporters of I-502 to the left and opponents to the right, he said, “This party kinda has a whole ‘Jets vs. Sharks’ feel to it,” referencing the fighting street gangs from West Side Story.  I laughed and started backing slowly away from him, raising my knees and snapping my fingers.

    But really, this was a “rumble” in a way that only peace-loving freedom-fighters at Hempfest would rumble.  Despite the great disagreement, I saw many folks crossing the battle lines to talk and laugh and share stories of reform.  We all agree that adults should be free to use, grow, buy, and sell marijuana.  After the election, if I-502 passes, I know all these people will be working together to expand its reach and fix its shortcomings.  If it should fail, these people will be fighting to achieve the next step toward the freedom we all desire.  I-502 represents a moment in the cannabis community where we’ve moved from “when” are we going to legalize to “how”, and the disagreements over “how” show how far we’ve come.


    I am the host and producer of The Russ Belville Show - The Independent Voice of the Marijuana Nation at http://420radio.org - live from Portland, Oregon. I was the winner of The Search for the Next Great Progressive Talk Radio Star and a former host on XM Satellite Radio and Portland's AM 620 KPOJ. I was the Outreach Coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws from 2008-2012, which included lecturing all across America on marijuana legalization, writing political analysis for HIGH TIMES Magazine, and producing over 1,000 hours of video content for The NORML Network.


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