When Oregonians historically voted to legalize recreational cannabis in November of 2014, it was lauded as a huge victory against prohibition and a great gain in personal freedom for residents. However, immediately after legalization was approved by the state’s voters Portland Oregon’s Parks Bureau sent a letter denying use of the Tom McCall waterfront park or any other public property to organizers of the 11-year-old Pro-Cannabis festival, the Portland Hempstalk. This would have been the second consecutive denial of the festival, were it not for a group of concerned advocates.
This August, unwilling to accept the decision, Hempstalk founder Paul Stanford – accompanied by attorneys, activists, parents and business owners – arrived at Portland City hall for a city hall meeting regarding the forbidden event. The opposition sign-in sheet remained blank as the appeal hearing began.
The Portland Parks Bureau directors did their best to disparage the festival, delivering little provable fact, instead accusing organizers of failing to meet the controversial requirements placed upon the 2014 event. The representatives claimed the denial was due to allegedly allowing for chaotic conditions and cannabis-infused lawlessness in the streets of downtown Portland.
Portland City Police sergeant Heidi Brockman testified that officers made several notes about the event such as organizers and security being unprepared, cannabis-infused edibles being sold in the open, along with copious amounts of marijuana being smoked by attendees.
Vivian McPeak, founder of the highly successful Seattle Hempfest, shared with the city council members the impacts Hempfest has, generating 7 million dollars in profits for the city of Seattle, creating hundreds of temporary jobs and continually growing peacefully for over 20 years.
Erin Purchase, a pediatric cannabis therapy advocate and mother of Brave Mykayla Comstock, took the stand and spoke about how cancer-stricken children are referred to Paul Stanford’s Medical Marijuana Clinic, the THCF. She told council members that she and her daughter were confused as to why they might not be allowed to speak at their local festival.
After two hours of pro-Hempstalk testimony, city council members asked for opposition testimony, but no one attempted to speak against the festival. Instead, it was the city council’s turn for questions and comments.
Mayor Hales probed with questions about how many incidents occurred during the event, how many 911 calls were made and how many citations were written during Hempstalk. The answers were far and few between, mostly incidental responses. When City Commissioner Nick Fish asked how many arrests were made during the festival, the police officers testifying remained silent. This question went unanswered.
Portland commissioner Dan Saltzman urged the need to reduce animosity between the Portland Parks Bureau and Portland Hempstalk Organizers. He also recognized that a double standard was being held, as there were conditions being placed on this event that were not placed on the Blues Festival or beer festivals that take place in the same park annually. This had been a common subject of contention presented by the Hempstalk supporters during testimony.
The only council member who remained opposed to the permit appeal and defiantly so, was Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Portland Parks Bureau. Fritz attempted to put the vote off, saying that there should be a “broader council discussion” concerning public cannabis use across the city. When the “yes” vote came 3-1, Fritz was the only one who diverged and refused to vote yes. Despite this, the appeal was granted, the Portland Hempstalk 2015 will be held in mid-October at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland.
“I am grateful that the mayor and Portland City Council recognized that we complied with the city’s requirements last year, that the case laid out by the Parks Bureau and police that we had not complied was not true, and that our Portland Hempstalk Festival is a safe, positive benefit for our communities,” Paul Stanford said. “I hope to work with the Mayor, the police and the Parks Bureau to make our event a success. I am going to petition the city of Portland to do like Seattle does and lift the no smoking ban for our festival and set up designated adult and medical use tents, with no sales.”
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