Festival focuses on legalizing pot

August 29, 2004

Heather Woodward, The Olympian

OLYMPIA -- Robert White has had to use a wheelchair since 1996, when he was shot in the back at a Tacoma convenience store where he was shopping for a chicken teriyaki dinner. He takes several powerful pain medications every day.

But it's medical marijuana, he said, that staves off the side effects of his other medications and helps him maintain a healthy body weight.

That's one reason White, 44, says using marijuana should be legalized.

'Without it, I would drop weight like water out of a glass,' he said. 'Without medical marijuana, I couldn't live. There are a lot of sick people who deserve to be able to choose what medication they use. I was a crime victim once. Why should I be victimized again?'

White was among a crowd estimated by organizers to be at least 2,000 who went to the second annual Olympia Hemp Festival on Sunday at Heritage Park. That's more than twice the attendance last year at Olympia's inaugural Hemp Festival -- an event organized by advocates of legalizing marijuana.

'I think we're doing really well this year compared with last year,' said Steve Phun Hadley, a core staff member of Seattle's Hemp Festival who helped out with the Olympia event. 'Next year, I want to do twice as good.'

Organizers attributed the larger crowd to a new addition this year: A row of vendors selling items such as jewelry, candles, T-shirts and bumper stickers. One booth also sold colorful, glass-blown bongs, or water pipes, for smoking marijuana.

And in addition to a slew of area musicians who performed on a main stage set up near Capitol Lake, the event featured a second stage on Water Street with an open microphone.

'This gives people an outlet,' said Jeremy Miller, founder of the recently formed nonprofit group Olympia Hemp Festival Committee.

Miller said he hopes the yearly event will educate those who aren't familiar with the issues surrounding marijuana use.

'It's really our civil liberties; that's what it boils down to,' Miller said. 'We're not just nobodies. We have a voice, and we actually have something to say. We encompass every single social group in the world.'

Jeffrey Steinborn, a Seattle attorney who is on the board of directors for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, spoke at the event.

'I see two or three people a week who have had their lives shattered because they have gotten caught with marijuana, and they are good people -- they could be your neighbors,' he said. 'What ever happened to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?'

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