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Radical Russ: My 10th Seattle Hempfest

Russ Belville

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I’m writing to you from my comfy seat on the Amtrak Cascades, making my way from Portland for my tenth appearance at the Seattle Hempfest. It’s amazing to think about how far the reform movement has come in the decade I’ve been involved – which is not to say my involvement directly contributed to any of these reforms. I’ve just been privileged to have a front-row seat to the greatest social change outside of gay marriage that my generation has lived through.

Think of it – 10 years ago we were in the second term of George W. Bush as president. No state had legalized marijuana – the most recent attempts were huge losses in Alaska and Nevada. Only ten states had medical marijuana and the Gallup poll showed just 36 percent support for marijuana legalization. Just a year later, legalization would face huge losses in Colorado and Nevada. Even medical marijuana lost in South Dakota.

As the years passed, I was excited as Richard Lee in 2010 mounted a serious, professional attempt to legalize marijuana in California. Like the previous shots at Alaska, Nevada, and Colorado, it did not succeed. However, getting great poll numbers on legalization early in the campaign in such a huge media market and politically important state as California put legalization on the map. No longer were we on the periphery of serious political discussion.

But Lee’s Proposition 19 introduced me to a shocking reality: there are people who smoke marijuana and some who grow cannabis who are opposed to legalization. I was stunned when I started seeing the “No on Prop 19” people springing up online and in real life, offering dire predictions of how awful marijuana legalization would leave Californians generally and pot smokers specifically. They promised that there would be better legalization to vote on in 2012, which, of course, never materialized.

Two years later, it was Colorado, Washington, and Oregon fighting to legalize marijuana. In private, I was depressed that Colorado and Washington had slick, professional, funded campaigns that seemed like they could actually win, while my state was saddled with an un-funded measure that would never garner popular support.

How frustrating it was in that context to travel to Hempfest 2012 and be greeted by pockets of “No on I-502” activists who were again making dire predictions of how awful this particular legalization would be. They longed for Oregon’s wide-open measure that eventually failed, while I wished Oregon had the professionals and the funding of Washington State.

Now as I return to Hempfest 2015, we’re three years into legalization in Washington State. I think of the four legalized states, we’d all agree Washington’s law is the most lacking, with its highest-in-the-nation taxes, no home grow allowances, and unscientific per se DUID law. However, the multiple dire predictions that the “No on I-502” crowd bamboozled some pot smoking voters with never came true.

This weekend at Hempfest, I have three speaking spots and I will be using them to document exactly how the dire predictions failed to materialize. Follow @RadicalRuss on Periscope if you’d like to hear for yourself.

And remember, my pot smoking friends in Ohio, some pot smokers may make dire predictions about how awful things will be if you vote for your legalization amendment in November. Based on my experience, I suggest you ignore those scare tactics and vote to end your own criminality.

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