Buckeye Hemp Activists Smoke Uptight University Administration In First Amendment Victory
By Harvey Wasserman
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
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."
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