Thousands march on Wisconsin State Capitol to demand cannabis legalization

MADISON: Sunny skies and pleasant fall-like temperatures combined with low winds to bring thousands of marchers to the annual Harvest Fest parade Sunday.

Smoke billowed over blocks of marchers making the annual trek from Library Mall at one end of State St. to the Wisconsin State Capitol on the other. Longtime Harvest Fest organizer Ben Masel estimated that around 3200 people paraded this year. Not only were crowd numbers up, but attendees seemed very enthusiastic about flexing the activist muscles gained in the fight for medical cannabis in Wisconsin.

Before heading to the Capitol, attendees warmed up with live music from Venice Gashouse Trolley and Nama Rupa. Rocker-T, returning to Harvest Fest from the West Coast, joined Nama Rupa onstage part way through their set. Speakers included Ben Masel, Jim Miller, Jacki Rickert and Gary Storck, Charmie Gholson of the Michigan-based Midwest Cultivator, SAFER’s Mason Tvert, T. A. Sedlak and State Supreme Court candidate Joel Winnig. Sedlak reprised his Saturday speech about having to leave Wisconsin because of a recent cannabis bust and the need to change the law so people do not have to live in fear as well as the brain drain cannabis prohibition is triggering.

March organizers made certain that the 2010 parade pace was a leisurely one. Medical users in wheelchairs and other medical cannabis patients marched at the beginning. Farther back, the scene was festive as marchers, chanted slogans, drummed and toked their way towards the Capitol, enjoying the fall weather and sun.

The Milwaukee reggae band Recalcitrant was in place playing as the march walked and rolled the last few blocks to the Capitol. In the first speaker break, Jim Miller led off, exhorting attendees to stay active, particularly for the Tuesday Oct 5 protest at a Madison fundraiser for State Sen. Julie Lassa. The Stevens Point Democrat, who is attempting to move up to the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. David Obey, joined Senate Health committee Republicans in killing state medical marijuana legislation earlier this year. Miller literally had the crowd roaring as he revved them up for action.

Miller was followed by fellow Medical Marijuana Commando Squad colleagues Jacki Rickert and Gary Storck. Both talked of their long personal battles with both health problems and to obtain legal access to medical cannabis. They noted how they recently traveled to Oregon to take advantage of the program’s availability to out of state patients. Storck noted that he had just uploaded a video he made of Rickert registering for the Oregon medical cannabis program on YouTube. Attendees cheered loudly as he urged they continue to keep up the pressure on marijuana prohibition.

Storck also noted how Sunday – Oct. 3 – was the 38th anniversary of the date he smoked cannabis before a glaucoma checkup, discovering that it lowered his eye pressure to normal levels. He also recalled Rickert’s battle for legal medicine and how it will be 20 years Dec. 20, 2010 since federal authorities approved her for legal federal marijuana supplies, a contract they broke. He also urged support for the MMJ advisory referendums on Dane County and River Falls city ballots Nov. 2.

UW alumni and current NYC resident Dan Goldman, the former Director of Outreach and Alumni for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, added some more fire after the MMJ Commando Squad, talking about how marijuana prohibition is in NYC a war on young minority men and how it had to change, inciting the crowd to roar in approval.

After more music, the day was closed out with speaking from Charmie Gholson, Mason Tvert, Joel Winnig and Ben Masel. By then most of the 3200 paraders had drifted off into the fading afternoon sun.

Ben Plunkett, who organized a voter registration effort for Harvest Fest reported over 200 new voters were registered with an additional 100 forms passed out over the weekend.

Clearly, Harvest Fest 40 can be proud of a great event and the many volunteers from those who made it happen, individuals, bands, sponsors, etc. are to be both thanked and commended for a very memorable 40th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival!