Newsbrief: Wisconsin Weedstock Wins Appeals Court Victory 7/25/03

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Madison's inveterate marijuana activist Ben Masel has once again proven to be a gadfly that local authorities would be better off leaving alonw. As Masel announced in a Thursday e-mail, the Wisconsin 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out a Sauk County ordinance used to shut down the 2000 Weedstock festival, declaring the ordinance unconstitutional.

Masel, who organized similar festivals throughout the 1990s, refused in 2000 to comply with the Sauk County ordinance, arguing at the time that it was an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly. Masel was arrested for his efforts, and Sauk County sheriff's deputies rousted the 300 to 400 people gathered at the event.

Three years later, the appeals court has agreed. While it rejected a litany of arguments crafted by Masel, enough of them stuck to convince the court that Sauk County's open-air assembly ordinance violated the constitution on its face by requiring that applications for permits be done far in advance, by barring the promotion of an event prior to permit approval, and by failing to put any time limit on the period the county had to process applications. While governments do have the right to regulate such events, the court ruled, the Sauk County ordinance did not meet the standard required of regulation that infringes on First Amendment rights: that such ordinances are "narrowly tailored to achieve a significant government interest."

Now the case goes back to circuit court, the Sauk County ordinance goes in the garbage, and maybe Weedstock can go home to Wisconsin. This year, it will be held in friendlier territory, across the Canadian border in Ontario, which currently has no valid laws against marijuana possession.

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