Pubdate: Wed, 25 Aug 1999
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 1999, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Contact:  414-224-8280
Author: Kevin Murphy, Special to the Journal Sentinel


Permit Was Never Obtained For Group Meeting In Nicolet National

Madison - The man who organizes the annual Weedstock celebration and
pro-marijuana rallies in Madison was fined $100 Tuesday for not
obtaining a permit for a September 1998 gathering of a group called
the Rainbow Family in the Nicolet National Forest.

Ben Masel, 44, who ran for governor in 1990 and Congress in 1996, was
cited by the U.S. Forest Service after he refused to get a permit for
the event.

For nearly three decades, the Rainbow Family, a loose association of
free-spirited individuals ranging from modern-day hippies to
physicians, has gathered at national forests across the country to
party and pray for peace.

Citing their First Amendment rights of peaceable assembly and free
speech, the Rainbows typically refuse to seek or sign a permit that is
required to use national parks for gatherings of more than 75 people.

Some national Rainbow Family encampments draw up to 20,000 persons,
but the 11-day encampment at Secret Lake in Vilas County was attended
by 129 persons on Sept. 5, the day Masel was ticketed, said Forest
Service officer Mark Borcovan.

During the four-hour trial in federal court Tuesday, Masel's attorney,
Jeff Scott Olson, attempted to have a Rainbow member testify that the
Forest Service rules were unconstitutional. But Magistrate Stephen
Crocker cut him short, saying he had already upheld their
constitutionality in a June ruling.

"The constitutionality of the regulations and how they were applied
was dealt with . . . and you lost that. This trial is about Mr.
Masel's criminal liability," Crocker told Olson.

Crocker's decision to prohibit testimony on the constitutionality of
the regulations could be grounds for an appeal, said Olson, who had
not decided Tuesday if the case would be pursued.

After the trial, Masel said he may appeal the misdemeanor conviction
or wait for the other legal challenges pending across the country to
the Forest Service rules.

Masel said the 1996 regulations aimed at making someone responsible
from every group using the national forests were unnecessary to
protect natural resources because littering and pollution laws are
already on the books.

"If they're concerned about littering, you should deal with it with
anti-littering laws rather than putting the prior restraint on the
rights of people to assemble because they might litter," Masel said.

Forest Service officer Butch Fitzpatrick defended the regulations,
saying they increase communication between the service and forest
users about safety and sanitation issues for large gatherings.

Masel is best known as the organizer of Weedstock, a Memorial Day
weekend celebration of marijuana and hemp that has been held annually
throughout the state since the late 1980s.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek Rea