Pubdate: Wed, 07 Jun 2000
Source: Baraboo News Republic (WI)
Copyright: 2000 Independent Media Group, Inc.
Contact:  219 1st Street, Baraboo, WI 53913
Website: http://baraboo.scwn.com/
Author: Ben Bromley, News Republic editor
Cited: Weedstock: http://www.weedstock.com/

WEEDSTOCK SHUTDOWN A COSTLY MOVE

If a weed encroaches on a garden's flowers and vegetables, I say pluck it. 
But when it grows in isolation and doesn't threaten other plant life, a 
weed should be left alone. Any time or energy spent on removing it would be 
wasted.

If only Sauk County officials shared this live-and-let-live philosophy, the 
costly boondoggle this Weedstock shutdown is about to become might have 
been avoided. In previous years, the county cracked down on the marijuana 
legalization festival by sending squads of sheriff's deputies to patrol 
Highway 33 in Fairfield Township. Lurking near the entrance to the festival 
grounds, they pulled over anyone with so much as a poorly attached license 
plate in hopes of making dope possession busts.

For any non-toker driving an older vehicle in the slightest state of 
disrepair (namely, our reporters), this was a nuisance. But it didn't keep 
Weedstock away.

Then the ante was upped, as the County Board altered its code of ordinances 
to read that any gathering likely to attract more than 1,000 people 
requires a special permit.

Weedstock organizers refused to fold. They claimed the county rule is 
unconstitutional, refused to even apply for a permit and set up the 
festival anyway.

County officials again heightened the stakes, getting Judge Virginia Wolfe 
to issue a temporary restraining order declaring that the festival grounds 
had to be vacated until the county rule could be reviewed. Now land owner 
Marcus Gumz and festival organizer Ben Masel have filed suit against the 
county, claiming their constitutional rights of assembly and free speech 
were violated.

Taxpayers who groaned about the money the Sheriff's Department spent on 
extra patrols to monitor Weedstock in past years  I've heard the figure 
estimated at $30,000 per year  can only guess the cost to be incurred in 
this legal battle, to be waged by the county Corporation Counsel's Office.

In enacting the updated open-air assembly ordinance and enforcing it, the 
County Board has created a solution more costly and annoying than the 
problem it sought to solve.

What was a three-day nuisance that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of 
dollars appears on its way to becoming a drawn-out court battle likely to 
cost far more.

Looming in the background is the sense that the county needed to do 
something to regulate a festival that celebrates an illegal activity  
smoking pot. But investing the full force of county law enforcement to stop 
a victimless crime from being committed on private land is like trying to 
kill a fly with a sledgehammer. What's next, countywide assaults on 
loitering and jaywalking?

Of course, it would be easier to portray the county as the bad guy if 
Weedstock organizers didn't act like extras in a Cheech and Chong flick. 
Last year, emergency medical services personnel responded to a call at the 
grounds, only to be initially blocked from entering and, upon being allowed 
in, threatened with violence. Such an incident only serves to back up the 
county's contention that the festival needs regulation or it won't be 
conducted safely.

This year, Masel failed to even attempt to get a permit under the updated 
rules. It's tough to prove the system is at fault if you don't even try to 
go through proper channels. But no matter who prevails, this turn of events 
will unnecessarily cost everyone involved  including taxpayers  time and 
money.

The festival wasn't hurting anyone. This weed should never have been plucked. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake