By Shauna Riley
Nearly 2,500 people gathered at Wisconsin’s capitol in Madison throughout the day on Oct. 2 to tout the many uses of marijuana—especially medicinally and agriculturally—at the 33rd-Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival.
Nearly 1,000 marijuana supporters marched six blocks along State Street to the state Capitol peacefully. The procession and rally participants chanted, “Hey hey ho ho, marijuana prohibition has got to go” and “we’re here, we’re high, get used to it.” A state legislator, a member of Congress, a Madison City Council Alderman, a Madison-based marijuana activist and two medicinal marijuana patients addressed a crowd of marijuana activists and supporters at the rally, which chiefly advocated the medicinal benefits of marijuana.
“[The purpose of this year’s Harvest Fest is] to get people out to vote and to let our elected officials know that at least in Wisconsin, the marijuana constituency makes it to the polls,” said Harvest Fest organizer Ben Masel. Masel, who’s been involved with the pro-weed event for roughly three decades. To promote this year’s Harvest Fest, Masel distributed 25,000 fliers.
The event kicked off at high noon at Madison’s Library Mall in the heart of downtown and the UW-Madison campus. Alderman Austin King spoke about Madison’s own medical-marijuana law, Madison Ordinance 23.20, the oldest medical marijuana law in the books from a platform in the center of the Mall. Masel told the crowd about the agricultural boon of hemp grown in Wisconsin during the 1800s, quoting then-Wisconsin resident Thomas Knapp in a 1871 Wisconsin yearbook.
Vendors peddling marijuana paraphernalia and hemp goods lined both sides of the square. The American Cannabis Society, NORML, Police Officers for Drug Law Reform and Madison’s Hempen Goods were among the organizations with booths at the Mall. Bumper stickers, t-shirts and hemp lollipops were some of items sold. Harvest Fest participants milled around for nearly four hours before marching down State Street toward the state Capitol.
“The best part [of the march] is smoking,” said Edgewood College (Madison, WI) student Laci Sheldon. “It’s great to be on State Street. I’ve had a couple jobs on State Street and so being able to walk down this very liberal, political, beautiful street and just puff down is great.”
Wisconsin state representative Mark Pocan and Wisconsin-based jamgrass band Groovulous Glove greeted the marchers at the lawn of the state Capitol on the sunny day. Pocan spoke in support of Wisconsin residents legalizing medical marijuana.
“We did a poll a few years ago and about 79-80 percent of people in this state want legalized medical marijuana. There’s almost nothing that gets 79 percent opinion surveyed polling in Wisconsin other than maybe support for Packers.” Pocan told the protestors. “There are a lot of politicians that want to sign up for the green and gold [the Packers’ colors]. But they don’t want to stand up for green. We need to change that.”
Pocan read to the crowd a statement on behalf of Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, who could not attend the event. Baldwin offered her opposition to the Higher Education Act drug provisions: “The policy often denies young people the opportunity to improve their lives through higher education. For thousands of students who are not able to attend college without financial aid, this is akin to a one strike and you’re out policy.”
Two longtime medical-marijuana patients— Jacki Rickert, founder of the Wisconsin-based Is My Medicine Legal YET? (IMMLY), and Louisiana-based medical marijuana activist J.F. Oschwald—also addressed the crowd.
Rickert thanked the crowd for their continued support. “I think we’re the closest we’ve ever been,” said Rickert, a seven-year Harvest Fest veteran, when asked about the Wisconsin legislature’s efforts to include a medical-marijuana law in the state books.
Oschwald told the audience about how the absence of a medical-marijuana law led to his participation in marijuana activism. He also applauded Madison Ordinance 23.20.
Harvest Fest drew to a close at 6 pm. Observed local resident Jack Straw, “Madison is one of the greatest marijuana towns of all time—and always will be.”