Judge Backs Hempfest Over Law

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Mar 22, 2001.

  1. By David DeCamp and Dan Scanlan, Staff Writers
    Source: Florida Times-Union

    Jacksonville can't enforce a local law requiring organizers to pay for insurance and police protection at outdoor festivals because it is unconstitutional, a federal judge has ruled.
    The ruling, spurred by a lawsuit filed by promoters of last year's Hempfest, called the city's permitting process for such events an improper restriction on the right to freedom of speech.

    Until the city fixes the law, which means including the option to appeal a denied permit, U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger ruled it can't be enforced.

    "The permitting scheme ... is a classic example of a prior restraint," Schlesinger said in his March 8 ruling. He also said it is unconstitutional to disqualify permit requests because of a promoter's criminal drug record, as called for in the current law.

    Even though the city can't enforce its law, a previous executive order from Mayor John Delaney already required security at large events, and city risk management rules require insurance by event promoters, Jacksonville officials said. So the city is protected from those costs, they said, and no pending events have been stopped by the ruling, although a permit application for this year's Hempfest is treading water.

    WJCT's Spring Fest, which is going on at Alltel Stadium, already had hired security and acquired insurance for the event, which began this week.

    So the practical effect is city administrators are working to put a new process in the city code book this spring.

    The city General Counsel's Office also is studying whether to appeal the judge's ruling, and a report is expected to the mayor's staff next week, said Sharon Ashton, Delaney's press secretary.

    The city already had been working on a new law, and the ruling just further pointed out where improvements were needed, she said.

    "It's in everybody's best interests that these events go safely," Ashton said.

    The rejected law required festival promoters to provide detailed plans to the city for events predicted to draw more than 5,000 people.

    Last June, the sponsor of Hempfest -- Florida Cannabis Action Network, which promotes medical uses for marijuana -- alleged the city discriminated against it by forcing it to pay for an insurance policy and $4,000 in city services to host the June 17 event at Metropolitan Park.

    Schlesinger ruled that the city ordinance puts too much discretion in the hands of city officials to set pricing and policing of any festival on city property, and it could be used to discriminate against the applicant. The law incorrectly provided no appeals process, he found.

    "There is no even-handed way to apply these fees. If the person applying for the permit wants to dispute them, there is no mechanism for them to respond to why the application is denied," said Kevin Aplin, president of Florida Cannabis Action Network.

    "They have to put something in the ordinance saying whoever has the authority has to answer the applicant within a few days. And if the permit is denied, there is no provision in the ordinance for judicial review."

    Aplin said the group has been billed about $3,600 for on-site security, medical assistance and electricity, which it has not paid.

    The group has applied for a permit for this year's Hempfest, set for June 2 at Hemming Plaza.

    Theresa O'Donnell Price, the city's special events chief, said the permit request is essentially on hold as the city sorts out its legal path, although the date is approved.

    While attorneys review the ruling, Price said a new ordinance should be introduced to the City Council within six weeks.

    It would create an appeals process for applicants if the city rejects their requests, meeting the judge's ruling, Price said.

    Note: Free speech violated, Schlesinger rules.

    Source: Florida Times-Union (FL)
    Author: David DeCamp & Dan Scanlan, Times-Union Staff Writers
    Published: March 21, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 The Florida Times-Union
    Contact: jaxstaff@jacksonville.com
    Website: http://www.times-union.com/
    Forum: http://www.times-union.com/tu-online/voices/

    Related Articles & Web Site:

    Florida Cannabis Action Network http://www.jug-or-not.com/can/index.html

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