Pubdate: Thu, 18 Aug 2016
Source: Northern Times, The (CN ON)
Page: 10
Copyright: 2016 The Northern Times
Author: Sarah Moore


The air in this small Northern town may get a little hazy at the end 
of this month as the annual Hempfest festival kicks off on Aug. 22.

For the last 18 years, the festival has attracted advocates and 
supporters of the decriminalization of marijuana, both for its 
recreational and medicinal uses, to the week-long music and camping event.

Robert Neron, who hosts Hempfest on his property (which is 
affectionately known as Chez Willy's Place), said it has become 
somewhat of a beloved tradition for those who attend every year.

"It's very special to me, it's like my little kid and it's the kind 
of festival that feels like a family," he said.

A vocal marijuana advocate, Neron brought the festival from its 
original location in Sault Ste. Marie to Moonbeam three years ago 
because of his own personal connection to the cause.

In order to manage pain from Hodgkin's lymphoma and another medical 
condition called cervical dystonia, which causes painful, twisting 
muscle contractions in the neck, Neron has been licensed to possess 
and grow his own medical marijuana for nearly 20 years.

He explained that Hempfest serves to bring others in a similar 
position together and to help educate those that want to learn more 
in a safe environment.

"Hempfest is a really great place to be," he said. "You talk with 
people who have the same condition and beliefs as you, people come 
for education, enlightenment, guidance. Lots of people are going to 
feel less scared to attend a festival which is a community festival, 
one where you get educated, meet people and have a good time."

The event also comes at an interesting time this year, with the 
federal government in the midst of drafting legislation surrounding 
the legal sale of recreational pot, and Health Canada under an Aug. 
24 deadline (smack-dab in the middle of Hempfest) to create new rules 
regarding the rights of medical marijuana patients to grow their own cannabis.

In 2014, the Conservative government overhauled the medical marijuana 
system and effectively prohibited patients from growing their own pot 
at home. Earlier this year, four patients in British Columbia 
challenged this in Federal court, where a judge struck down the 
regulations prohibiting them from growing medical marijuana and 
ordered the government to draft a new set of rules on the issue.

Neron, who had his own brush with the law when his medical marijuana 
licence briefly lapsed, said the decision won't have much of an 
impact either way on those like himself, who have had the right to 
possess marijuana for some time.

For others who have been waiting in limbo for the ability to grow 
their own medical marijuana, however, it could be a day of celebration.

"For any of the regulars or anyone used to coming to the festival, we 
live this way every day of the year. This is our life, it's a 
culture, it's how we medicate - it's a regular day of business for 
us," he said. "But, I can assure you that lots of people will be 
celebrating and having good moments thinking they can now be free and 
not be in fear of being arrested. It will be a good liberation day."

Neron is also in the process of opening up his own legal dispensary 
on the Moonbeam Hempfest grounds, as well, which he hopes will be 
open for business in time for the festival.

"I have filed to have a not-for-profit corporation and have asked to 
be a legal dispensary; I am waiting for the certificate," he 
explained. "Hopefully by Hempfest, this will be fully legal and I'm 
quite sure it will be approved."

He stressed, however, that opening the dispensary isn't about making 
a profit - it's about helping those in a similar situation to himself 
have better access to affordable, medical marijuana.

"We're doing this because we believe in something. It's not for us to 
make money," he said. "The music and vibe at this place, and at 
Hempfest, is like a freedom - something you know that you should have 
been entitled to from Day 1."

The festival will begin with a few days of relaxation, games, hiking 
and camping.

Once everyone has had a few days to enjoy all that Moonbeam community 
has to offer, the entertainment portion of the event will begin on 
Thursday, Aug. 25 with a performance by Kapuskasing natives Barrel 
House Blues Band. They'll bring the beats until approximately 9:45 
p.m. that evening.

House of David Gang, a reggae/funk band from Toronto, will play for 
the remainder of that evening until 2:15 a.m.

There are a more than one dozen acts on the bill for the weekend, 
including Shift From The 902, La Tragedie from Montreal, DJ Kin Noren 
and DJ Fuels, Fortunate Losers, Estelle Deschamps, the Stevie Ray 
Vaughan Experience, the Laura Cole Band, Chezza and Crone of War.

The festival will conclude on Sunday, Aug. 28 with its annual 
pot-luck dinner at 5 p.m.

Food or beverages must be contributed to participate.

Neron said he is looking forward to welcoming new faces back again 
this year and is hopeful that some new people will join in, as well.

"Don't forget the essentials like your beach towel and sunblock," he 
advised. "Don't toke and drive - be careful - and I can't wait to see you!"

The week-long festival will once again be held in Neron's property at 
27 Cimon St. in the northeast area of Moonbeam. Tickets are available 
at the doors, at selected retailers in Timmins, Moonbeam and Hearst 
and by contacting Neron directly at
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom