Photo by Kristina Erickson|CIGAR| Students have already shown great upset at the fact that “Hempfest” has been cancelled for the first time in over 10 years.
After 10 years, the annual Hempfest event organized by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) will no longer be held because of defunding by Student Senate. Hempfest was created as a way to reach out and inform students on the truths of cannabis as well as recruit for their organization.
A majority of what made Hempfest possible was the funding received from the Student Senate. Last fall, however, they lost their funding status and were demoted to the category of unfunded organization. This is because Student Senate became concerned with a small clause in the organization’s mission statement that they deemed political. Funding a political organization conflicts with the Senate’s bylaws, as well as the 501(c)(3) status which exempts Senate from the federal income tax.
Haley Cedarholm, the President of SSDP, said that the clause states that the organization encourages students to be engaged in the political process. However, in an interview last spring with the Student Senate President Ryan Buck, he shared a different outlook.
“In [the chapter’s] mission statement they stated they were advocates of certain policies like the legalization of marijuana and stuff like that. That’s where we would have to draw the line. [Student Senate] would have to remain neutral in order to remain a 501(c)(3).”
Cedarholm also said that she believes this happened because of a leadership change in the Senate, not because of actual fear of losing their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
At a meeting where some defunded political groups on campus voiced grievances to two members of the Student Senate about this topic, one organization head mentioned that there is in fact more leeway to the 501(c)(3). They mentioned that Student Senate can fund political organizations as long as the money appropriated doesn’t go to political candidates.
“The Student Senate gets their money from the student activity tax,” Cedarholm shared. This tax takes money from student tuition, then is given to Student Senate to appropriate the money in accordance to their bylaws. Haley suggests she doesn’t think it is fair that Student Senate gets to defund organizations with students money.
“If we’re compelling all students to pay into Student Senate funding, then all student organizations should be funded,” Cedarholm added.
According to Samantha King, Student Senate finance chair and former SOARC chair, representatives from the group, including former SSDP President Pat Shea, came to SOARC about the recommendation to unfund the group.
“We explained to him and the other representative that was there how they were a 501(c)(4) and we’d feel comfortable recognizing them as unfunded because of that and it may jepardize our own 501(c)(3) status,” King said. “We gave them the option of creating something of a memo of understanding, or changing their name to clear any air that they were not affiliated with their national chapter. However at the time in that meeting Pat Shea expressed to us that they were not interested in that possibility at all, so we went forward with the unfunded recommendation.”
In spite of all of this, SSDP continues to do work to better the safety of our campus. Currently, the group is working to get more accessible water in the Ryan Center. SSDP pushes for accessible tap water that people can fill empty water bottles with since bringing full bottles into the venue is a concern. A petition to complete these goals already has 250 signatures from students who agree the water situation is unsafe and unsatisfactory. Harm reduction is SSDP’s mission, and by doing this they feel students will have a safer experience at the concert or game they are attending.
“[Our] organization doesn’t condone or condemn drug use but we do realize students use drugs,” Cedarholm said. Knowing this, the organization wants cannabis users to be as safe as possible.
Hempfest was a free live music festival with the intended purpose to “raise awareness about the failures of the War on Drugs and promote more sensible drug policies in Rhode Island and around the world,” according to the 2015 Hempfest event page.
The event traditionally took place on the Quadrangle where students gathered to listen to regional musical acts and educational speakers. In the past, students had been surprised at the presence of marijuana at the event, despite hire police for the event.
“I used my bong in a parking lot where the security guard was right next to me eating a granola bar,” said one student who attended Hempfest two years ago.
Cedarholm said that the group has “never had an issue with the police hired for the event doing anything about the ‘civil disobedience’ that happens on the quad.”