Some Ohio State students’ enthusiasm for cannabis is set to bud up Saturday, when the Ohio Hempfest returns to the grass of the South Oval for the first time in five years.
The free music festival is slated to last from noon until midnight, with 16 musical performances at the Browning Amphitheater over the course of the day, as well as 15 pro-hemp speakers and 16 vendors, including one selling food and several selling hemp-related trinkets and glass pipes, according to organizers.
Hempfest has been an OSU tradition, occurring in the spring semester every year from the 1980s to 2009.
Hempfest was discontinued when the student organization that had been holding the event, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, disbanded.
One OSU student has borne the standard of this resurgence of Hempfest.
“Nobody took initiative to recontinue the event,” said Derek Koenig, president of For a Better Ohio, the student organization that organized the event this year.
Koenig, a fourth-year in public affairs and political science, said he wanted to bring back Hempfest as a way of giving back to the university and leaving behind something meaningful.
“It would be an awesome first college experience (to) see activism at its finest,” Koenig said.
He said that he hopes about 5,000 people will come to Hempfest, but doesn’t expect to see a significant drop in attendance from previous years because of the excitement that was being generated on social media and with past participants.
“The largest Hempfest boosted five stages, and as many as 15,000 (estimated) passing through throughout the day,” the Hempfest press release said.
Koenig said there were five stages for performers at Hempfest from 2004-06.
He said part of his motivation in organizing Hempfest has been Chad Catlett, a friend of his who had planned to speak at the event before dying from cancer in late September.
Koenig said he wants to focus the event on legalization of hemp and its practical uses, as opposed to promotion of illegal drug use. Hemp is a low-THC type of cannabis with many industrial uses.
“The event is more straying away from marijuana itself, and raising awareness of what hemp can do,” Koenig said. Among other things, his group notes the plant’s use for clothing, paper and rope as reasons for its legalization.
As organizer of the event, Koenig said that he wants to make sure that people follow the rules of OSU and said there will be an University Police presence.
Alfredo Weeks, one of the vendors who will be selling incense, pipes and other items at Hempfest, also noted the event isn’t just an excuse to get high on campus.
“Come out there with an activist mentality, not just, ‘Oh, I just wanna be a stoner,’” he said. “Just try to come and be as responsible and respectful as possible.”
Koenig said that Buckeye Event Network allowed the selling of glass pipes at the Hempfest.
Buckeye Event Network is a university group that helps student organizations use outdoor space on campus, according to its website. Public Safety, OSUPD, Facilities Operations and Development, the Registrar’s Office, Student Life, Risk Management, Athletics, the Wexner Center for the Arts and Traffic & Transportation Management are all involved in the review process, said Dave Isaacs, Student Life spokesman.
That organization’s decision to approve glass pipe sales evoked reaction from some students.
“If they’re pushing for tobacco free, they shouldn’t be selling tobacco products on campus,” said Emily Chucta, a second-year in animal science.
Dr. Peter Shields, deputy director of the James Comprehensive Cancer Center and chair of OSU’s Tobacco Free Initiative, released a statement addressing that perceived discrepancy.
“Ohio State remains committed to a tobacco free policy that supports a healthy environment for all members of Buckeye Nation. This is a relatively new policy, instituted in January of this year, and we are constantly reviewing the policy and our interpretations of it to inform decisions going forward. As with any new policy that affects every member of our university and community, there are areas identified in real-time that were not previously anticipated, and we continuously work to address issues prospectively that are consistent with our goals of a tobacco-free campus,” Dr. Peter Shields, deputy director of the James Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in an email.
The level of student interest in Hempfest might be mixed based on what some students said.
Chucta said that she would be interested in going to Hempfest, but has prior commitments.
“I feel like there’s so many different people here that even if it’s something strange, people will want to try it,” Chucta said.
“I don’t have any interest in this event at all,” said Duncan McKennie, a third-year in international business and finance. He said he was not interested in it because he is not a smoker.
Koenig said that For a Better Ohio has spent roughly $2,000 putting together Hempfest, including money spent on portable toilets, sound equipment for the musicians and promoting Hempfest.
In the past, there have been more complex issues in setting up Hempfest.
In 2004, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy challenged the university for their right to continue holding Hempfest.
The case was taken to a U.S. district court, and was decided in favor of the students.
“I think there was a certain arrogance that nobody sues Ohio State and Columbus and wins,” said Bob Fitrakis, the attorney who represented Students for Sensible Drug Policy in the court case.
Fitrakis said the university discovered that the 2004 Hempfest would coincide with parent’s weekend at OSU and wanted to cancel it in order to avoid offending parents. They then tried to cancel it because Students for Sensible Drug Policy did not have the correct paperwork for hosting the event, he said.
He said the university had left a trail of public record emails that led him to this discovery.
Whether it’s called hemp or cannabis or marijuana, the plant’s popularity was enough for OSU students to revive the festival.
“This is a plant that’s been here and is going to be here long after we’re gone,” Weeks said.
A prior version of this article stated that Buckeye Event Network is a branch of the Office of Student Life. In fact, the group involves a number of other campus offices, said Dave Isaacs, Student Life spokesman.