As a member of the cannabis culture, and as a journalist working for Cannabis Culture, I have long enjoyed marijuana festivals such as the Seattle Hempfest, Million Marijuana Marches, and other gatherings of the tribe.
But now, the US government has decided to destroy our culture’s right to peacefully assemble.
A Senate bill (S. 2633) and two House of Representatives bills (HR 3782 and HR 3782) have been portrayed by their Congressional sponsors as an “anti-Rave bill,” but the language in the bill says, “Whoever knowingly promotes any rave, dance, music, or other entertainment event, that takes place under circumstances where the promoter knows or reasonably ought to know that a controlled substance will be used… shall be fined under title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned for not more than 9 years, or both.”
The new laws, which have been represented by sponsors as anti-amphetamine and anti-ecstasy legislation, actually make it a federal crime to host any event during which illegal drugs may be used. A broad interpretation of the proposed laws (an interpretation that would certainly be backed up by a US Supreme Court which has repeatedly endorsed the idea that constitutional rights can be suspended in furtherance of the drug war) is that people who facilitate raves, concerts, festivals, marijuana rallies, and even backyard parties where illegal substances might be used, are subject to a $250,000 fine and ten years in federal prison.
The laws would also make it a crime to rent housing or office space to medical marijuana patients, their caregivers, and advocacy organizations.
These new laws would give the government frightening powers, but government agents have long harassed gatherings where controlled substances are used.
Near Eugene, Oregon, marijuana activist and businessman Bill Conde used to sponsor hemp festivals on 30 acres of his own private rural land every summer.
Conde’s rallies drew crowds as large as 12,000 people, who peacefully gathered, camped, partied, danced, and networked during multi-day events. Pot icons like Dennis Peron, Ken Kesey, Lisa Yeates, Jack Herer, Chris Conrad, and other activists gave fiery speeches from Conde’s stage. In between activist’s speeches and voter registration presentations, top rank pro-pot bands, dancers, dramatists, poets and other creative people graced Conde’s stage.
And yet, even though Conde’s events were well-run and safe, police and local government officials used their powers to harass Conde. They created bogus laws specifically designed to shut down his hemp festivals. They sent undercover narks and provocateurs on to his private property. They charged him with false charges, and tried to steal his land from him using asset forfeiture procedures. They threatened his wife and children.
Finally, after being arrested several times and facing draconian regulations that placed huge obstacles to his goal of hosting hemp festivals, Conde gave up. His land, which used to be home to vibrant tribal gatherings that promoted voter participation, activism, and peaceful entheogenic explorations, lies barren, sad, and silent.
Authorities in Seattle tried to similarly shut down the legendary Seattle Hempfest. When I attended the event during the late 1990’s, I watched in dismay as city authorities inexplicably turned sprinklers on in the waterfront park where the event was being held, soaking the electrical equipment necessary to amplify the event’s band and speakers.
I watched undercover police, and uniformed police on horseback, run rampant inside the event, while outside the hempfest’s gates, they harassed attendees using bogus traffic stops and other forms of intimidation.
Hempfest organizers Vivian McPeak and Dominic Holden, along with a crew of valiant volunteers and attorneys, stood down Seattle’s government, and the Seattle Hempfest is now one of few major pro-pot public events still operating in the US.
If the abovementioned bills become law, however, McPeak and Holden could be charged with federal crimes, and the city of Seattle could also be held liable for providing a city park to people who use “illegal” substances as sacrament and social lubricant.
From Boston to Ann Arbor to San Francisco, from Tallahassee to upstate New York to Washington, DC, I have seen non-violent pot festivals disrupted by government actions, some of them brutal, all of them designed to destroy our culture.
If you already know how to contact your senator and member of the House or Representatives, do it now, and tell them not to enact any law that would ban raves or other events in which entheogens are used. You can find out who your representatives are by contacting the Capitol switchboard at 202 224 3121 and by visiting the website www.senate.gov/senators/senator_by_state.cfm
You can also visit ga1.org/campaign/rave. If you fail to take action now, it is very likely that the days of beautiful, fun, peaceful pot gatherings, pot political rallies, and entheogenic dance events will come to an end.