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Ohio Hempfest sparks student engagement

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The band Fox Valley harvest plays for Hempfest attendees on Sept. 27. Credit: Danika Stahl / Assistant Campus Editor

The band Fox Valley harvest plays for Hempfest attendees on Sept. 27. Credit: Danika Stahl / Assistant Campus Editor

The South Oval was filled with the sounds of live music and merchants on Sunday during Ohio Hempfest. The student organization that put on the event, For a Better Ohio, estimated that as many as 3,500 people attended throughout the course of the day.

Along with local bands and vendors showcasing hemp products and merchandise, the festival also featured several activist groups looking to garner more supporters and, in some cases, signatories.

For a Better Ohio organized the event as a platform for hemp, social and environmental activism.

Derek Koenig, the student organization’s president and a fifth-year in political science and public affairs, said that the size of student turnout at the event did not matter as much to him, but that those students who did turn out were engaged.

“What I really want from this event is for people to come out, come to the event, and turn into activists. Regardless of what it’s about, I hope it’s about something environmental, I hope it’s about something socially,” Koenig said.

Participants at the festival included representatives from two separate marijuana legalization ballot-initiative groups: ResponsibleOhio and Legalize Ohio 2016.

ResponsibleOhio advocated support for the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, an Ohio-initiated constitutional amendment that will be voted on this November. Independently, Legalize Ohio 2016 actively sought signatures to place a similar proposal on the ballot to coincide with the 2016 general election.

Neither of the groups, which both support legalization, enjoyed any official support from For a Better Ohio. The student organization takes a neutral stance on the ballot measure options, working to create an open platform for debate.

“I really think it’s great that Ohio is even talking about this issue,” Koenig said. “The main goal of Hempfest is just to create activism and create community involvement. We focus on social justice, environmental awareness — things of that nature, really just giving back to our planet and the Earth.”

The Ohio Hempfest has a history and has been running for about 25 years.

“Students for Sensible Drug Policy used to run Hempfest, but they discontinued that about six or seven years ago. I was approached about two years ago by one of the old founders, and they helped bring it back,” Koenig said.

In 2004, just a few years prior to that cancellation, the festival survived a lawsuit in which the university challenged the organization’s right to continue holding the festival. The same lawyer who represented the students in that U.S. District Court case, Bob Fitrakis, returned to the festival this year to speak. He offered his thoughts on many subjects, from hemp activism to the importance of reforming the criminal justice system.

For a Better Ohio independently coordinated and funded the festival, Koenig said.

The vice president of the organization, David Straka, a fourth-year in political science, said, “(Koenig) did the bulk of the work. We have a lot of other members that contributed small pieces, but (Koenig) is Hempfest.”

Koenig, however, was careful not to overstate his role.

“I don’t want to take too much credit,” he said. “We have so many volunteers that have done so many great things. Without the Columbus community, it wouldn’t be here. They’re a big part of why we’re here and even why we’re able to put it on.”


  1. It is appaling that such a “movement” occurs on campus. Scientific research shows that pot causes brain damage, esp. in the young. It also can be a contributing factor in the development of schizophrenia.
    First: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/schizophrenia/cannabis-psychosis-link


    AND: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130827091401.htm

    • Kris, I’m glad you brought some of these points up!
      Firstly, I’d like to inform you that our event was not ‘such a movement’ that focused on marijuana. Rather, our event helped bring the community together, to help inform everyone about the benefits of legalization of hemp, flaws in the criminal justice system and how reform can come about, as well as there were speakers about marijuana. It is called Hempfest for a reason, and that is because our main focus is hemp.
      Second, psychosis and marijuana has been linked. I wont deny that there is evidence against marijuana usage. However, there is such a long list of benefits and conditions it can help with. I would love to provide links, however there is so many on the internet and in textbooks that confirm this position. Please research Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s opinion and how it has changed over the years.
      Third, I would like to finally point out that there is side effects to everything we do. Alcohol has psychosis as a side effect (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/289848-overview). Not to mention the side effects of the many prescription pills that teenagers and children are prescribed everyday.

      I love the passion and respect your position, but I encourage you to further research your position and weigh the costs versus the benefits in this situation. Have a great one and thanks for reading.

  2. Because Ohio doesn’t have enough problems with rapist and corrupt cops lets add pot to the mix and see what happens!


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