Hempfest '99 focuses on ballot initiative
Steve Schell
November/December 1999

The tenth annual Hempfest was held in downtown Gainesville on November 6 and saw a great turnout. In the early days of Hempfest, large crowds turned out in anticipation of catching a joint tossed by the renowned Doobie Tosser, but several years ago, then-Police Chief Wayland Clifton decided to flood the event with police officers in an attempt to intimidate people attending. It worked. Attendance dwindled in subsequent events, but after Don Shinnamon took the helm and went back to a police presence more in line with what might be expected for such a peaceful gathering, the mood changed. Clearly, people are there to listen to good music, hear good speakers advocating for medical marijuana and legalized hemp production, and check out cool stuff from all the vendors who set up around the plaza.

This year the Hempfest was scheduled from 2:00 - 11:00 pm, plenty of time for bands like Crash Pad, Bustamonte, and Kitchens of Soul. And plenty of time for speakers promoting the medical marijuana initiative, urging people to register to vote, and urging people to get involved in whatever cause they choose. There was a steady stream of people coming and going throughout the day and evening hours, and a good group of people hanging out on the plaza listening to the speakers and the bands. The crowd heard from local activists Kevin Aplin, Tom Miller, Joe Courter, and Michael Geison. Jodi James, of Cannabis Freedom Coalition in Melbourne, was also on hand to talk about their efforts and their upcoming Cannabis Freedom Festival at Melbourne's Wickham Park on November 20-21. "Florida is laying the groundwork for social change," James told the crowd. "We need jurors who will say, 'no, I'm not going to send a non-violent offender to jail.'" Kay Lee, a dedicated activist in the medical marijuana fight and in the effort to call attention to abuses in the prison industry, was also there to urge people to get involved and sign the petitions.

Those who had not had an opportunity to sign a petition in support of the medical marijuana initiative in Florida got a chance to do it at the Hempfest. Those signing petitions must be registered voters, so there was also a table where people could register to vote. The tables stayed busy with people signing petitions and picking up information. Cannabis Action Network hopes to get the initiative on the 2000 ballot, but unless enough signatures are collected in time, it may have to wait until the next election year. If such a measure passes here, Florida would join California, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, and Maine in passing medical marijuana provisions. Washington, DC voted on a similar measure but Congress held up funds to even count the ballots until forced to release them by the courts. The measure won, and now the haggling continues on Capitol Hill on whether to overturn the vote.

If you couldn't make the Hempfest, or even if you did, you can still cruise down to Melbourne on Nov. 20-21 for their local festival. There will be plenty of room for camping and Gainesville band Bubbleman will be playing. If you need directions, phone 407-728-8152.

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