On the morning of June 17, the day of Florida’s third annual Jacksonville Hemp Festival, festival organizers weren’t sure if city officials would allow the event to happen.
“The City of Jacksonville, and especially its consolidated police force, which is the sheriff’s department, has made it clear that they don’t like pot politics,” explained Scott Bledsoe, one of the event’s sponsors. “The sheriff’s office has interfered with our legal political activities, such as pamphleteering and signature gathering. We’ve sued Sheriff Nat Glover two times, and won. But they never give up.”
Bledsoe and his allies in Florida’s Cannabis Action Network ? Jodi James and Kevin Aplin ? fought with Jacksonville officials about whether their festival could include live music.
“They told us that if we have music, then we are putting on a commercial festival, not a free speech event. Then we’d have to pay thousands of dollars for insurance, police and emergency crews,” Bledsoe said. “I told them that music has been in political events since the beginning of this country. Music is free speech. If we advertise that we are having a pot event with just speakers, we can’t expect to have people come out all day. By having bands donate their time to the cause, we draw people who wouldn’t otherwise attend.”
CAN took the city to court, requesting an emergency injunction against the ordinance. US District Judge Harvey Schlesinger issued a vague last-minute ruling that left activists and the city bickering about its meaning.
“We believe that all of this is unconstitutional,” Bledsoe said. “I’ve already lost my job because I’m an activist. I don’t see any reason to compromise. I think it’s time for all of us to stand up and challenge these people directly. We’re here holding this festival, we never got the permit, and we’re having a great time!”
Before going onstage to make a speech, Kevin Aplin presented me with a stack of pamphlets and a booklet entitled Express Yourself- How to Use Your First Amendment Rights.
“Please thank Marc Emery for me,” he said. “Marc gave us a contribution, and this is what we did with it.”
Aplin told the crowd how to hold pot rallies, how to stand up to government harassment, and how to make sure that officials who violate constitutional rights pay for it.
Aplin also explained what to do in potential arrest situations, cautioning pot people not to give up their rights, consent to searches, or otherwise assist in their own demise.
About 500 people, most of them teenagers, attended the pleasant and well-organized festival. Four police officers were also there, but they did nothing to stop the fun or harass audience members. In fact, one of them read an issue of Cannabis Culture and told me that his father had taken Marinol!