Organizers for this year's installment of Hempstalk say they've got Tommy Chong and marijuana activist John Trudell lined up, plus a slew of musical acts to entertain the growing crowd. The one thing they don't have: a permit from the city.
In mid-April, the city's Parks Department sent The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation (THCF)—a medical marijuana provider and Hempstalk's main organizer—a letter denying their request for a permit to hold the event at Delta Park, September 8-9. The problem, according to Parks Security Manager Mark Warrington, is that last year's event, which brought an estimated 15,000 people to Waterfront Park, was the site of "widespread smoking of marijuana" and "unlawful consumption of alcohol" in violation of THCF's permit.
Police say they arrested three people outside the event allegedly selling pot, and parks security issued 20 exclusions for possession of marijuana and alcohol.
THCF Founder Paul Stanford denies the "widespread use" allegation. "It's simply not true," he said. "In fact, our attorney calculated that, based on other weekends, there were 40 percent fewer arrests at the park during our event than usual."
Sgt. Chris Davis, who heads up the police bureau's downtown Street Crimes Unit, didn't immediately know how many pot arrests normally happen in the area, although he did say it's "not uncommon to find weed dealers in Waterfront Park."
What isn't in dispute is that Hempstalk 2006 featured a private tent for medical marijuana users to medicate. Warrington says that was in direct violation of the permit agreement, and that even if state law does allow for medical use in private—which it does—it isn't allowed at Waterfront Park. Plus, the permit required THCF to follow all "federal, state, and municipal laws and regulations," and federal law doesn't make exceptions for medical users.
Warrington says they specifically denied THCF permission to set up a medicinal tent.
"The first time [in 2005], they asked us if they could set up a medical marijuana tent, and we had our attorneys research the issue and they came back and said no, it wasn't okay," he says. "But last year they went ahead and did the tent anyway.
"We come to an agreement with people when we issue permits, and they did not live up to their part of the agreement last year," Warrington added.
"That's true," Stanford says, "they told us we couldn't and we did it anyway. We're a medical clinic, and all of our clients require medical marijuana—how could we not provide a place for them to medicate? We disagreed with [Warrington's] interpretation, knowing that if it became a problem, we could challenge it based on state law."
Stanford also has a 2001 email that was sent by then-Mayor Vera Katz's office to Oregon National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which he believes makes his case. At the time, NORML was asking for permission to have a private area at the Rose Festival for medical users. The response, sent by Katz staffer Elise Marshall, was that "you do not need police endorsement, approval, or authorization for what is currently allowed under [Oregon law] which deals with medical marijuana."
As it currently stands, Hempstalk 2007 is permit-less, and no one from the Portland Parks and Recreation Department, the police, or Parks Commissioner Dan Saltzman appears ready to budge. But Stanford and his fellow medical marijuana activists are taking their case to the rest of city council, hoping for at least three friendly ears. "They can either give us the permit," Stanford says, "or we're going to sue the city."