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Hemp Activists Smoke Uptight University Admin.

Buckeye Hemp Activists Smoke Uptight University Administration In First Amendment Victory


By Harvey Wasserman
From: http://www.freepress.org/columns/display/7/2004/905

Some 20,000 central Ohio hemp supporters gathered this weekend to celebrate the value of pre-Bush judges who respect the Constitution of the United States.

Late Friday afternoon, Federal District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley issued a stinging rebuke to the Ohio State University's attempt to shut down the community's traditional Hemp Fest, which has been held on campus for a decade. As a result, record crowds came to the most successful Hemp Fest in OSU history, amidst calls to set next year's date as a national celebration.

In a tortured series of contradictory e-mails and false turns, the University on June 2 revoked a permit it had issued to Students for Sensible Drug Policy to hold its annual "mini-Woodstock" of music, speeches, food, face painting, tie dye and more. The festival is a central Ohio tradition dating back to 1989. It's been held at the same central campus location since 1995.

SSDP began discussions for the June 5 event last October. OSU confirmed its official permit on January 5. But the University then Bushwhacked the event just three days before it was set to go.

SSDP had contracted with 40 vendors and 24 bands. More than a dozen student groups and a handful of speakers, including one being flown in from New Jersey, were left hanging.

In canceling the permit OSU cited a number of Ashcroft-style technicalities. Campus police chief John Petry, who is new to the job this year, complained in an email to SSDP organizer Sean Luse that "in past years, there has been significant drug use at the event and the sponsoring group has done little to stop that and could even be said to encourage it."

But the event has been historically so violence-free that last year OSU assigned not a single police officer to a gathering that drew more than 15,000 people.

An SSDP legal team filed for a federal injunction to prevent Ohio State from canceling the event. Long-time civil rights attorney Sandy Spater was joined by attorneys Edward Forman and Bob Fitrakis, along with law clerk Michael Beaver. The Hemp Fest team pointed out that underage drinking regular occurs at Ohio State football games, along with occasional rioting involving massive property damage and personal injuries. "By the police chief's reasoning," said Fitrakis, "Ohio State should be canceling its football season."

The Hemp Fest legal team also cited a decision from Kentucky's Sixth Circuit Court restoring the job of a fifth grade teacher who invited actor/activist Woody Harrelson to speak about hemp.

The Chief's letter, said Fitrakis, who is publisher of the Free Press alternative newspaper and web site, was "a throw-back to the old pre-1920s 'bad tendencies' doctrine which would give the police power over who may speak. This doctrine has been thoroughly rebuked by the courts."

In a dramatic decision delivered Friday at 5pm, Judge Marbley savaged OSU's administration, calling its actions "constitutionally suspect." The permit denial, he said, "teeters perilously close to the abyss" of discriminating against SSDP because of its views. He also said the University trampled the group's 14th Amendment rights of due process and equal protection under the law. The Festival, he said, could go on.

Marbley did, however, agree to the University's demand that a bond be posted for police to observe the event. Attorney Fitrakis pledged the value of his house to cover it. The final policing bill has yet to be settled.

The massive regional and national publicity generated by the cancellation, court battle and restoration of the event helped swell attendance to over 20,000, a record. Campus police spent much of the day shopping at booths and watching for pot smokers. One speaker read the First Amendment verbatim from a sound stage. "Amidst a failed drug war, it's good to see the Constitution upheld," said Fitrakis. "Next year, the event will be even bigger."

**** ENDS ****

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