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

    by  • August 22, 2012 • Blog, Russ Belville

    On Day 2, the attention of Hempfest turned to the large Hemposium tent like never before. It has hosted panels underneath its big top, which is the first stage one sees when entering Hempfest from the main South Entrance, for most of Hempfest’s history. Usually the tent serves to provide shade for wearing attendees and some folks eagerly listening to the world’s experts on cannabis onstage.

    But today it was standing room only for the most-anticipated panel in Hempfest history. For 21 years, its volunteers have fought to get marijuana legalization on the ballot. But now that an initiative that legalizes 1 ounce of personal possession plus commercial cultivation and retail sales is on the ballot in the form of Washington’s I-502, Hempfest is officially neutral on the measure. Many (most?) of Hempfest’s core staff oppose I-502, primarily for its 5ng/ml per se DUID, secondarily for its zero tolerance DUID for under age 21, and for other reasons that range from no home-growing provisions to excessive taxation.

    Before that panel, the room was prepared by the panel showing previews of the movie “Legalize It“, a documentary that tells the tale of the dedicated campaigners who fought to make marijuana legal in California with Prop 19 in 2010, falling just short of legalization, winning crucial converts in labor, civil rights, and law enforcement, yet enduring surprising opposition from entrenched medical marijuana interests and paranoid marijuana consumers who concocted all manner of scare stories of how legalization was a scam meant to enrich corporations and a secret twisted plot to actually bust more stoners than the status quo.

    It’s called “foreshadowing”.

    The crowd had already been filling in during the “Legalize It” panel. When moderator Don E. Wirtshafter convened the “I-502 Debate”, a first was realized: Seattle Hempfest was featuring a debate on whether or not to endorse legalization of marijuana.

    Alison Holcomb, the chief proponent and co-author of I-502, on loan from the ACLU of Washington, was joined by NORML Founder and current Legal Counsel Keith Stroup. Kari Boiter, an activist and legislative analyst, was joined by Steve Elliott, a medical marijuana review columnist and blogger, who was the only debate attendee not in the Hemposium tent a half hour before it started.

    I didn’t submit any questions for the panel, but if I could have, they would have been:

    1) For Steve Elliott: You mentioned that Washington’s I-502 would, assuming it passes, set a dangerous precedent that other states would copy when they introduce legalization. You also point to other legalization initiatives in Colorado (A-64) and Oregon (M-80) as superior initiatives that you support. How, then, could I-502 become a precedent, unless the other two superior initiatives failed in the election? What would make Oregon and Colorado legalization fail at the ballot box and Washington legalization win at the ballot box in order for it to become a precedent?

    2) For Kari Boiter: You mentioned that you were concerned about your impairment and had yourself tested, finding that you were above 10ng/ml, even after sleeping and having not consumed cannabis. Your doctor tested you and found you to not be impaired at that level. Do you drive in Washington State only after having slept an entire night and regardless, do you fear getting pulled over for suspected impairment today in your state? If the nightmare scenario of a profiling cop with a penchant for lying got you to the point of an arrest and a blood draw now and you came up at 10ng/ml or greater, do you think you could beat those charges today?

    Just some of the hard-working volunteers at Hempfest who had to endure heckling for supporting legalization. No, you read that right.

    As we wound up Day Three, I wanted to dedicate this speech and this post to the hard-working volunteers for the Yes on I-502 campaign who endured boos, catcalls, jeers, taunts, angry shouts, and rude treatment at Seattle Hempfest for, unbelievably, promoting a legalization initiative that has made the ballot, has several high-profile, mainstream supporters from all walks of life, including law enforcement, is polling well, and has a good chance of passing.

    And that was just from a large percentage of the Hempfest Staff while the Yes on I-502 crew were loading their gear in before the event ever started.

    Then these volunteers worked in the busy thoroughfare approaching the Main Stage, flanked by businesses that make their money in the medical marijuana industry, using some of their profit to oppose the legalization initiative.  They kept on trying to educate even the angriest person wearing a red t-shirt or red button that was paid for by people who smoke marijuana and make money from marijuana to convince people to allow to continue a law that will guarantee 8,000 more criminal drug records next year, and the next, and the next.

    I was honored by these freedom fighters’ appreciation of this blog and show and I am happy if I have helped in any way.  When I overheard one of you using my “smoking a joint in my house and the cop knocks on the door” illustration, it was validation of every hard knock I’ve been through this year being worth it.  Thank you.  When another told me this weekend was “no problem, because we’re on the right side – we’ve got truth,” you shaved four years of cynicism off my jaded hide.  Thank you.

    Now go win this thing!  Victory in Washington!  Victory in Oregon!  Victory in Colorado!  As my Packers Fan friends like to chant when we force the Bears to punt without a first down… THREE AND OUT!  THREE AND OUT!!  THREE AND OUT!!!  The feds can not withstand the blow of three states voting and three states winning on legalization.  Let’s do this, and improve it in 2014, 2016, and until everybody can grow, possess, use, sell, transport, and produce this herb in as free and responsible way as possible.


    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.


    Twitter Facebook