It’s about education, dude: 17th Hemp Fest offers up music, petitions, crafts and information on the cannabis plant (both kinds)

click to enlarge The scene at Moscow Hempfest 2010.
The scene at Moscow Hempfest 2010.

By MICHELLE SCHMIDT for INLAND360.COM

If you don’t already have plans for 4/20, it’s a perfect day to drop by Moscow’s Hemp Fest.

Event organizers didn’t pick that date — 420 is a pop culture term referring to cannabis consumption — it’s always held during UI Mom’s Weekend. But it may be a fortuitous date during a year when organizers are launching a petition to get a medical marijuana initiative on Idaho’s 2014 ballot.

Hemp Fest began as an educational effort by UI students during a time when most people didn’t know the difference between hemp and pot (both are cannabis: the first is grown for fiber and seed, the other for recreational and medicinal drug use). Over time, it devolved into a disorganized daylong party until Arlene Falcon took it over in 2006 and got its focus back on its original purpose.

“It’s about education and information, and over the past few years we’ve taken action,” Falcon said. Falcon had been a long-time vendor at Hemp Fest — she owns Tye Dye Everything in Moscow — and took on the event, not just because it needed an organizer, but because it’s a cause she feels strongly about.

“I am just really frustrated because it’s time to end this prohibition on pot,” she said.

She asserts that alcohol, which lacks the social taboos, is much more dangerous and doesn’t even have medicinal value.

So the goal of Hemp Fest is to educate people about these things. And it has. Tom Trail, a former state representative, spoke at a past Hemp Fest in connection with his support of industrial hemp production in the state. During the festival, he heard information from speakers that changed his views on medical marijuana use and regulation and has been among the few legislators in the state to support it.

This year’s speakers include Steve Phun, a Seattle Hemp Fest activist; Adam Assenberg, a local activist; Serra Frank, founder of Moms for Marijuana; and Lindsey Rinehart, with Compassionate Idaho, the organization that drew up the petition on medical marijuana.

According to Falcon, the goal of the 17-page proposed initiative is to make sure the seriously and terminally ill, who use specified small quantities of marijuana, will not be charged as criminals. The petition needs to collect 55,000 signatures by next April to get it on the 2014 ballot.

“Over half the states in the country have passed some form of legislation to lessen criminal charges for medical users,” Falcon said.

Though Idaho is not in that half, Falcon has encountered primarily positive feedback in collecting signatures for previous medical marijuana petitions.

“People are very receptive,” she said. “Some people don’t want to put their name on something like this, but most say, ‘Please, I want to sign that.’ ”

But while education and political action is the focus of the event, most people come for the fun. Regional bands are playing the whole day in between speakers. Playing from Moscow are:

- Blue Yeti, a young rock and roll band. - The Thalweg, Americana music. - The Phoenix 99 Blues Band.

Also playing are Working Spliffs and Real Life Rockaz, reggae style bands from Spokane, and James Plane Wreck and Sun Blood Stories, new young rockers from Boise. A poi fire performance will close out the festival at 8 p.m.

While the music is playing, nearly 40 arts and crafts vendors will be selling everything from hemp jewelry to tie-dye clothing to glassware. Food vendors include Vlad’s and Pho 20 Café in Moscow. “It’s kind of a hippie-fest, it’s fun for everyone,” Falcon said. “UI moms love it also and enjoy their annual tradition of attending the festival.”

if you go What: 17th Annual Moscow Hemp Fest When: 10 a.m. to dark Saturday, April 20 Where: East City Park in Moscow Admission: Free

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