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Portland’s Smoke-Free Hemp Festival

“This weekend, Riverfront Park is the sole place in town you can’t light up a joint” – a joke that made the rounds.

The Tenth Annual Portland Hempstalk was held last weekend at Portland’s Tom McCall Riverfront Park, the site of many large festivals. The pro-Hemp/Pro-legalization of recreational adult use event was held just 38 days before Oregonians vote to join the citizens of Washington and Colorado and End Prohibition, (again).

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Settling in for John Trudell and Bad Dog.

The City of Portland Parks Bureau forced the organizers to declare the event a No Smoking venue. Even patients with legal Medical Cards were not allowed to consume their medicine. Adding insult, the City required the organizers to hire forty Security Guards at a cost of $1000 an hour to suppress their event. A host of unacceptable regulations were activated. Not only were all bags searched upon entry, the event was divided into two distinct areas with the connection between the two broken by a paved footpath. When one left one side, the search occurred again on entry to the other. One could not even go directly across the path from one exit to another entrance. You had to go back around, (hard on a lot of old and ill folks) and reenter the original entry…and, get searched again. Private water bottles were confiscated. – both bizarre Fire Marshall rulings that are not implemented at any other event held at the park.

The celebratory energy coming from being on the cusp of legalization could not have been more suppressed. And stifling it, it certainly did! The free-admission crowd over the weekend was about 9000, well down from last year’s 80,000, who attended at the remote, little parking available park in and Industrial Zone where the festival had been exiled for the past four years. Many folks, confronted on arrival with uniformed hard-faced men wearing sidearm Tasers that look like semi- automatic pistols, just turned around and left.

The organizers felt that holding the event at the venue downtown would allow for easier access, especially for older folks; as the former exile site, though beautiful, required a walk of well over ½ mile from parking to get in…and the City ruthlessly made bank on the many parking tickets handed out, as they changed the parking rules and areas for parking every year.

The city’s rationale for the crackdown was that people were smoking openly and selling illegal products at the event; people were camping along the riverbanks at the remote park and the organizers did not stop it. Mind you, it wasn’t actual anti-social behaviors motivating the City – those 80,000 were remarkably well-behaved – it was the old, demeaning “pot users as sinners” mind-set at work.

(It reminded me very much of the Seattle Hempfest, the granddaddy of them all, from around 20 years ago, when 60,000 showed at Seattle’s waterfront under similar restrictions. That day, there was also a Major League baseball pennant race game and a NFL Football Game happening in Seattle, as well. Three people were arrested for Disorderly Conduct at Hempfest and 438 at the two sports events, along with fifteen arrests for assault! Priorities, priorities! How times change: Last year, after legalization, Seattle cops famously handed out bags ofDoritos with the new law written upon them!)

At most events held at Portland’s Waterfront Park, alcohol is not only allowed, sales booths and designated areas for adult imbibing are set up. Banners of the sponsoring alcohol companies are everywhere. A partial list of such events: Cinco de Mayo;  the huge annual Portland Rose Festival; Portland Pride;  the legendary 4th of July Waterfront Blues Festival; the annual Oregon Brewers’ Festival; the Bite of Portland…all of these events have less security required by the City and far more uncivil behaviors occurring.

(Ironically, the park is named after Gov. Tom McCall, the guy who threw the only state-sponsored rock concert/festival ever outside of Portland when Nixon came to Portland in 1970 to promote the continuation and escalation of the Vietnam War at the American Legion’s annual convention. Rumor has it that bales of confiscated marijuana were flown into the site on National Guard helicopters. It succeeded in separating the Legionnaires from the antiwar protesters who chose the concert instead.)

Next year, when adult recreational cannabis use is legal, I fully expect a designated adult smoking area (If not, I fully expect a 14th Amendment Equal Protection lawsuit.) This year, even patients with Medical Cards were prevented from legally lighting up! (One speaker showed up backstage right after security had hassled some medical patients there and noted, “My friends were giving me grief about being an elitist cuz I had this backstage pass. But, even here there’s no privacy?! Sheesh!”)

Send a Complaint…

The people responsible for the odious restrictions are: Parks and Recreation Bureau Director Mike Abbaté (director.abbate@portlandoregon.gov) and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who has oversight of the Bureau. Fritz is on leave after her husband’s recent tragic death in a car accident. Her aide is fielding outraged citizen responses at this time,Diana.Bartlett@portlandoregon.gov. Write ‘em!

…And End It Once and for all

Of course, the way to end such second-class citizen repression is to vote Yes on Measure 91, the citizen’s Initiative to legalize and regulate hemp and cannabis in the state. (While you are at it, Vote Yes on Measure 92, as well. That Initiative would require the labeling of genetically-modified foods and is being fought against and proponents out-spent by Big Ag/Food giants.)

Almost There, John Sinclair

All that said, the event was still a well-done festival with many dedicated volunteers pulling off the heavy lifting. People enjoyed the many presentations, vendors of hemp products displays and a line-up of fine speakers and musical performances. Hempstalk is clearly the most multicultural and multi-ages event held annually in Portland, the USA’s whitest and youngest average age city.

This year’s lineup featured speakers, politicians and long-time supporters. Activist musicians played well-received sets. We heard from advocates from around the globe – Canada, Chile, Uruguay -where legalization recently occurred – Washington and Colorado where legalization came about last year on citizen votes.

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Paul Stanford interviews John Sinclair for Paul’s TV show Cannabis Common Sense

Bonnie King of the independent Salem News conducted excellent interviews with  both  Paul and John.

Sunday’s lineup was superb. Legendary poet/political activist/music promoter John Sinclair spoke to the history of Free the Weed Rallies (he sponsored the first one ever in Michigan back in 1965!) and did some of his verse accounts of the counterculture’s past.  John was followed by Paul Stanford, the tireless Cannabis and Medical Marijuana campaigner whose organizations The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation  and medical clinics sponsor Hempstalk and co-sponsor and Seattle Hempfest. Paul minced no words while informing the crowd as to how the abhorrent security restrictions were foisted upon him , costing an additional $60,000 and how the Parks Bureau did not even give the green light to the event until the Thursday before, allowing but one day to set the entire thing up.

Stanford was followed by Real One, a rapper with the great California Hip Hop group Los Marijuanos, who fired up the crowd for the obligatory Civil Disobedience that occurred at 4:20pm. Dozens of Vaporizer pens were passed thru the crowd and used, seemingly confusing the security apparatchiks, as no one was rousted.  (The outstanding Pony Boy of Los Marijuanos performed a well-received crooner set on Saturday. The man can sing!)

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John Trudell

At 6PM, John Trudell, Quiltman and Bad Dog played a fabulous set, as the crowd settled in at sunset. John is a spoken word artist, actor, Viet vet, anti-Nuke activist and the  only chairman of the American Indian Movement (AIM) dating back to his role as spokesperson for the Indians of All Tribestakeover of Alcatraz in 1969. John has been an out-spoken advocate for industrial hemp’s restoration as an environmentally-friendly alternative to oil, plastics, fiber and as food.

After Bad Dog, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real played a high-energy set. Nelson, a young (24) activist guitarist with a voice of gold cruised in from Nebraska where he, his dad and Neil Young played a sold-out benefit Saturday night for the tribes and farmers working to stop Tar Sands pipelines from being built over the irreplaceable Ogallala Aquifer.

Nelson wowed the crowd with his exceptional guitar work – even playing one piece with his teeth! He may well be the best new guitarist of all, certainly the best I’ve heard. And, of course, he’s been mentored by one of the great American advocate musician heroes – his dad Willie.

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The new guitar-slinger in town – Lukas Nelson.

All-in-all, Hempstalk 2104 was a rousing success. While beyond annoying, no amount of political repression at this late date could or will derail the march to ending Cannabis Prohibition and the restoration of Industrial Hemp. I look forward to the day when this year’s nonsense security rules will be seen as the last thrashings of a dying, misguided dinosaur’s tail. Oregonians will only have to watch out for that tail for a few more months. Big Props to Paul Stanford, his many allies and the outspoken artists who have led our way to the cusp of Legalization. Now, citizens…do your part and vote.

MICHAEL DONNELLY was gassed at the  Michigan Capitol in 1970 when he and a couple hundred allies protested the incarceration of his childhood homeboy John  Sinclair on a  sentence of 10 years for giving two joints to an undercover policewoman. He can be reached at:pahtoo@aol.com

 

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