Photo courtesy Hempfest: Rally for Reform's Facebook page.
Photo courtesy Hempfest: Rally for Reform’s Facebook page.

Students for a Sensible Drug Policy present the 15th annual “Hempfest 2016: The Rally for Reform” this Saturday on the University Rhode Island Quadrangle, which will offer free music all day, speakers, vendors, food trucks and activities.

SSDP President, Patrick Shea, explained that in the early 2000’s, there was a lot of anger and outcry against higher education acts and students were losing their federal funding for drug charges. URI’s SSDP chapter grew out of this movement, and was one of the first chapters to officially become recognized in the country.

Since then, Hempfest has been a yearly tradition, revolving around the idea of hemp cultivation and hemp legalization. SSDP member, Shannon Davis, said the event will begin around 3 p.m., and there will be multiple vendors including a vintage records sale, a t-shirt tie-dying event and a candle-lit vigil. Shea explained that the vigil is in memoriam of the victims of the drug war–people who have been killed or put in prison– and will honor people who have been affected by the U.S. drug war not just in Rhode Island, but worldwide.

Shea said there will be different speakers throughout the day, but each speaker will be presenting from a different perspectives and will attempt to show how different inequalities and issues are directly related.

Davis said that a professor will speak about mass incarceration and how it leads to the drug war, a member from Regulate Rhode Island will talk about the marijuana legalization debate in Rhode Island, and another speaker will discuss how the drug war policies affect communities and families. Also, a member from the New England Veteran’s Association will talk about how medical marijuana saved his life, and how it can save other veterans.

The musical acts this year include Alec K Readfearn and the Eyesores Way Out, 14 Foot 1, Little Compton Band, Cactus Attack Pixels, Manny Morales Band and a special guest. Jeremy LeClair, SSDP member, said that there is a little bit of something for everyone this year, with a bluegrass band, new-wave rock acts, a jam band, and a psychedelic folk band. He said that in a way, the day will be like URI’s own music festival.

In past years, Hempfest has focused mainly on marijuana legalization, but Shea said that although that is very important to SSDP and many Rhode Islanders, the organization wants to focus on the broader issues of the drug war and issues such as mass incarceration, racial inequality and civil rights.

Davis said there will be different stations on the quad set up so people can learn about these issues and offer a place for students to voice their opinions. Shea said that SSDP is trying to evoke student participation so it’s not just an educational event but also a “facilitation of a discussion across campus between students, professors and community members.”

Although Shea explained marijuana as a “hot button issue” SSDP can use to channel activism through, he said that marijuana legalization is right on the doorstep of Rhode Island, and in time, Hempfest can eventually shift completely to an event focused on harm reduction, civil rights and mass incarceration.
Shea said that a lot of students at URI are passionate about ending the stigma surrounding drug use, and treating drug use in society differently, however, he is aware that Hempfest can be perceived with a negative connotation.

“As an event that predominantly advocates for drug legalization, we face a lot of backlash from the more conservative community, mainly because of the stigma still associated with the use of these drugs,” Shea said. He explained that one of the greatest messages of the event is that as a society, people need to start reforming their ideas about what drug use is and how it should be both categorized and thought about in society.

For people who are worried about the message Hempfest is promoting, Shea encourages them to come to the event, visit the stations, talk to the non-profits, and listen to what the speakers have to say and maybe, this event can change their mind on certain topics.

“Most people have a stereotype [of drug users] in their head,” Shea said. “They’re not thinking of ordinary people-your neighbors, your teachers, your nurses and your friends. It’s infused with a lot of other prejudices. Everyone in our society–from the lowest rungs to the highest–use drugs. This is something that affects everyone.”

Hempfest will take place Saturday from 3 to 11 p.m. on URI’s Quad. The event is free and open to the Kingston community. For more information, visit Hempfest 2016: Rally for Reform or SSDP’s Facebook page.