PHOTO CREDIT: ALFREDO JIMENEZ/THE420BAKER.COMScene from a rainy 2018 Great Midwest Harvest Festival
About to take Madison, Wis., by storm, the “longest-running marijuana festival in the U.S.” doesn’t make a mystery of its goal. United under the slogan “Cannabis Prohibition Kills,” the Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival (GMMHF) aims to educate the public about the harm caused by marijuana prohibition.
On Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 5 and 6, public speakers, bands, vendors and a large crowd will gather at Madison’s Library Mall (on the UW-Madison campus) culminating in a march to the state capitol steps for a peaceful protest and discussion in favor of marijuana legalization.
Activism is at the forefront of the festival, with speakers such as State Rep. Melissa Sargent—one of the leading forces behind Wisconsin’s marijuana legalization movement—along with state Reps. David Crowley and Sheila Stubbs. Eric Marsch, of the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), will be “speaking about the four-year plan to get cannabis legalized in 2023, starting with electoral efforts focused on the Senate in 2020 and then the Assembly in 2022,” he announced.
Keynote speaker Paul Stanford—former director of Washington State NORML—will be at the festival. “When he is not speaking on stage, anybody can approach him,” GMMHF director Shelley Kennedy says.
A Half-Decade of Growth and Evolution
This year will be the 49th Marijuana Harvest Festival. It originated in 1971, under the supervision of marijuana legalization activist Ben Masel, who passed away in 2011. “It started as a protest against the arrest of some prominent marijuana activists in the area in the ’70s, and people were actually smoking marijuana in the capitol rotunda to protest,” Kennedy explains.
Since then, the GMMHF underwent numerous changes, going from an informal gathering of protesters to an actual festival. In the 1980s, it started to include bands, speakers and an educational goal. In the ’90s, as the so-called “War on Drugs” intensified, the festival gained traction, and “some of those crowds were estimated to be about 20,000 people,” according to Kennedy. “However, that was all the Marijuana Harvest Festival was: free music and everyone getting together and having a great time. Now, it has an organization behind it with a purpose to back it up,” she explains.
The GMMHF has recently been registered as a 501(c)(3) (non-profit) organization, the objective of which, Kennedy says, is to generate revenue through a better-organized festival, which will then be used to improve regulations and consumer protection in the marijuana industry. “There is a huge lack of regulation in the industry, as we are seeing with people getting ill and passing away from vape cartridges. What we would like to do as an organization is to test as many products as we can and work with local hemp testers to share unbiased reports with the public about our findings,” she says.
Festival Entertainment and Activities
Although activism is at the heart of the Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival, it remains a festival, with all the activities that implies. The fun starts on Friday, Oct. 4, with a kickoff party at Bos Meadery featuring music by Pine Travelers Duo, The Earthlings, Flow Poetry and Gary David and the Enthusiasts. There will be plenty more live music to enjoy once the weekend starts. Headliners Bongzilla—a local but internationally recognized stoner metal band—will close the festival on Saturday. Other highlights include Civil Engineers, a rock and soul band setting itself apart thanks to its brass section, and reggae band Natty Nation will play on Sunday.
The festival also boasts “a huge variety of vendors, including everything from local farmers and local CBD producers to people selling glass, gifts, pipes, etc. We are also having local artisans and artists who do awesome work. It's pretty much all local.”
The Marijuana Harvest Festival hopes to broaden its audience, reaching out to a variety of people curious about marijuana and the fight for its legalization, in addition, of course, to attracting those who are already invested in the issue. Families are welcome, they say, as well as anyone who is interested in learning about marijuana and hemp but doesn’t know where to start, for there, they can meet and hear from politicians, activists and farmers.
“I hope to generate enough revenue so we can have more of an event on Monday, April 20—‘420’ [internationally known as ‘Cannabis Day’]. We’re planning to have a block party here in Madison, and that is going to generate more revenue for the organization, because 2020 is going to be the 50th year of the Marijuana Harvest Festival—that one, we hope, will be huge.”
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“Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction.” Bob Marley
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