Representative Bob Barrett (R-Lindstrom) may think that marijuana is highly addictive, but at least he's not comparing hemp with cyanide.
That would be Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm, a former law enforcement official and detective who was assigned to the Southeast Minnesota Drug Task Force. A September event planned to promote the hemp industry may have planted the seeds of a freedom of speech battle in the Southern Minnesota meat-packing town. The kerfuffle may prefigure the debate coming next session if a bill legalizing medical marijuana gains momentum.
In the July 31st article, Group plans first Hemp Fest: Organizer says September event will be family-friendly, drug-free, Austin Herald staff writer Trey Mewes reported:
A local marijuana and hemp advocate is ramping up her push for legalization.
Deanna Jean and area organizers plan to put on a festival promoting the legalization of the hemp industry in mid-September. The Austin Minnesota Hemp Fest is billed as a drug-free, family-friendly event featuring at least five musical acts by local and regional artists, according to Jean.
“Prohibition is ending, and it’s time we embrace this change instead of fight it,” Jean said.
The festival will include arts and crafts opportunities, and speakers to talk about potential benefits from restarting the hemp industry.
Yet the event is raising eyebrows within the city. Jean and other organizers will rent the bandshell at Bandshell Community Park for the event, which will take place from noon to 9 p.m. Sept. 15.
While the issue won’t come before the Austin City Council, city officials are closely watching the event to make sure organizers don’t promote marijuana legalization. . . .
City officials will closely watch the event to make sure it follows city policy. While the city will allow organizers to use city property for a large festival, some city officials are nervous the event will be used to promote marijuana legalization.
“I spent 30 years in law enforcement,” Stiehm said. “There’s worse things than marijuana, but there’s worse things than cyanide, too. That doesn’t make it good.”
Bluestem isn't sure if he's thinking of fugu ovaries which a BBC report suggests are 200 times as toxic as cyanide (and just as illegal as dope in the United States, Delish says). Obviously, he's taking a different approach to marijuana than CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, who recently argued that as much as he'd searched, "much as I searched, I could not find a documented case of death from marijuana overdose."
While Hemp Fest appears to be focusing on the benefits of industrial hemp on its Facebook page, rather than merchandise that Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-bop-bop peddle, the editorial board of the Austin Daily Herald points out a basic First Amendment issue today: while it may be illegal to grow, harvest, distribute and sell ganga in Minnesota, advocating the reform of marijuana laws is protected by the First Amendment.
In Our opinion: Don’t limit speech, the board writes:
. . .Officials voiced concerns that the event will be used to promote legalizing marijuana usage, which is an understandable suspicion, as Jean gathered more than 1,000 signatures to persuade Mayor Stiehm to publicly support decriminalizing marijuana. Something he said he wouldn’t do.
“Prohibition is ending, and it’s time we embrace this change instead of fight it,” Jean told the Herald.
But like promoting the hemp industry, demonstrations in favor of legalizing marijuana are not cause for city or law enforcement to take action to stop or prevent the festival.
We say this not to promote hemp or marijuana, but to promote the First Amendment.
Just because many may disagree with a stand or find it unsavory, that does not mean its supporters don’t have the right to voice their opinions.
We urge law enforcement and city officials not to inhibit the right to free speech. We also urge Hemp Fest participants and organizers to demonstrate in a respectful way and to obey the law — and keep their promise — by maintaining a drug-free environment. . . .
Check out the entire editorial at the Herald.
Minnesota was one of the last states to outlaw hemp as an industry in 1968, though legislators have discussed lifting those restrictions over the years. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, continually proposes bills to regulate hemp as an agricultural industry. Though the bill usually receives some bipartisan support — Rep. Jeanne Poppe DFL-Austin, co-sponsored the bill during the last legislative session — legislators typically never deal with the issue.
Marijuana decriminalization is gaining prominence as state and federal officials debate whether to allow states like Washington and Colorado to legally monitor the industry. In Minnesota, a bipartisan group of legislators could once more propose medical marijuana laws at the next legislative session. State representatives and senators passed a medical marijuana bill in 2009, but the initiative was vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
While Stiehm may believe that there are things worse than marijuana and cyanide, but that doesn't make them good, he's not taking an official position on the issue of hemp bills, Mewes reports:
Stiehm declined to give his position on marijuana legalization.
“It’s not a city issue, it’s a state issue,” he said. “It’s not my job as mayor to bring up an issue that we’re going to have no bearing on anyway and divide Austin over it.”
We anticipate more enlightening discussion of hemp laws across the state as the session nears, and Bluestem will share the best when we find it. Readers can pass popcorn or Doritos as they see fit.
To give Mayor Stiehm his due, he did get much more upset in 2009 about Neo-Nazis trying to use the Mower County's Veterans Memorial to recruit into their cause than his proposed surveillance of Hemp Fest.
Images: Poster related to the first Austin Minnesota Hemp Fest, via Facebook. For the record, Bluestem supports laws allowing Minnesota farmers to grow industrial hemp and legalizing medical marijuana.
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