Denial of Permit Hampers Hemp Festival

Denial of Permit Hampers Hemp Festival
Posted by CN Staff on June 21, 2004 at 20:20:48 PT
By Susan Palmer, The Register-Guard
Source: Register-Guard
This year's celebration of all things hemp (except, of course, the illegal things) has hit a snag. Eugene officials won't give the Emerald Empire Hempfest organizers a permit for a party in any of the city's parks, citing drug use at last year's event. But festival coordinator Dan Koozer said there were no arrests and little drug use at the one-day festival in Alton Baker Park and that organizers had hoped to expand this year to a two-day festival July 17-18 at Washington Jefferson Street Park.
The festival promotes nondrug aspects of the marijuana plant, from foods made with hemp seeds to clothes made from hemp fiber. Those products come from a strain of the plant that has no THC, the ingredient that creates the high. The festival also recognizes those who use the marijuana medicinally, a legal practice in Oregon for those who register with the state."We're trying to show that the cannabis plant is simply a plant with many benefits that's been demonized," Koozer said.Eugene police confirm that they made no arrests last year but they say officers witnessed drug sales between people at the festival and that undercover officers bought marijuana there.In addition, the private security staff hired by festival organizers told participants who the undercover officers were, said police spokeswoman Pam Olshanski. "That ends up producing an officer safety issue as well," she said.Koozer said the only complaint he heard from police along those lines was that someone on the festival staff had identified the undercover officer and had followed him around during the festival.Decisions about event permits fall to Johnny Medlin, director of parks and open space for Eugene.Last year's festival posed no problems from a parks standpoint, Medlin said. "There was some minor damage, but nothing more significant than any other event of that type," he said.But after meeting with Eugene Police Capt. Steve Swenson, Medlin said he decided the festival represented an unreasonable safety risk and denied the permit. "The denial was based upon evidence that there was use and sale of marijuana," he said.Festival organizers also are upset that they were denied the permit a week before the deadline to get all their paperwork in.Their initial application lacked insurance and other certificates, and they thought they had until this coming Thursday to submit the material.Medlin said he sent out the denial notice early because the missing paperwork wasn't the deal-breaker and he wanted organizers to know as soon as possible that they couldn't use city property."We tried to issue our decision as quickly as we could, so they wouldn't undertake expenses not knowing what our decision was," he said.The city tried to bill the festival $4,100 for last year's officer presence, but dropped the request after a lawyer for the festival challenged the charge, saying it was an unconstitutional use of government discretion to bill one group differently from others.Attorney Brian Michaels said Eugene police didn't charge other groups for events such as Art and the Vineyard and last year's Martin Luther King Jr. rally.That challenge to the city billing didn't play a role in the police recommendation to deny the permit, Olshanski said.Festival organizers believe the denial discriminates against them and plan to appeal it. City code allows an appeal before a hearings officer.Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has taken an interest in the dispute, said Executive Director Dave Fidanque of Eugene.The festival sponsors shouldn't be denied a permit because of the behavior of people that they had no control over, he said."We're interested in talking to folks at the police department to learn their concerns and how they may be addressed in a way that allows the hempfest its right of constitutional assembly, but allows the city to take care of whatever needs it has," Fidanque said.Whether the gap between the city and cannabis fans is bridgeable remains to be seen, he said.Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)Author: Susan Palmer, The Register-GuardPublished: June 19, 2004Copyright: 2004 The Register-GuardContact: rgletters guardnet.comWebsite: Hemp Archives
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