Thursday, March 17, 2005


Ever since folks started speaking out against Bush, America has adopted "free speech zones". These are small restricted or roped in areas where folks can exercise their first amendment right to free speech. These are generally found about 4 blocks away from any human activity and media reporters. In other words, you can exercise your right to free speech as long as nobody can hear or see you.
When I grew up, the free speech zone was everything within the boundaries of the United States. But, times have changed.
Below is a story showing how one group of activists was threatened if they did not comply with the "free speech zone" rules. The disturbing part about this is that today it happened to people wanting to inform citizens about the lies regarding marijuana, tomorrow, it could be gun groups, tax groups, home schoolers, or religious groups. If we don't stand up for the rights of others, why should we expect others to stand up for OUR rights? 'We must all hang together or we will surely hang separately'.

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(If they can do this to NORML, they can do it to gun owners, too. Or libertarians. Or anyone who's message the government doesn't like. Then they can send in the headbreakers who can hide behind badges.)

Date: Sun, 13 Mar 2005 17:59:48 EST

My name is Henry Koch and I am the President of Midlands NORML, the Columbia, SC chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Last year we were forced to bring suit against the city of Columbia and the Three Rivers Music Festival Association, through the ACLU, in US District
Court. Three Rivers was creating barriers and arguably attempting to completely exclude us from participating in an annual three day publicly funded music and arts festival which is held on public property because they don't like our literature. The lawsuit is centered around first amendment violations.

The day the festival started, Judge Cameron Currie set aside our case since we could no longer prove damage. The festival attorney promised the court that NORML would not be removed from the festival, nor harmed in any way should we leave our booth to distribute literature to festival attendees. Judge Currie continued the case - she didn't rule nor dismiss in the event there might be a need to continue the case the following year.

Festival organizers threatened to remove us from the festival if we left our 100 sq. ft (10x10) space to pass out literature or speak to anyone who didn't approach us first and specifically request information. This conditional free speech policy that the festival organizers attempted to enforce violates free speech as outlined in the US Constitution.

In previous years non-profit organizations (NPO's) paid a nominal fee to
attend the festival - $250 compared to over $1000 for merchandise and food

This year, in their continued efforts to exclude Midlands NORML or
significantly suppress our ability to get our message out to as many people as possible, they have removed the NPO status and increased the fee to $1060.00. All organizations, including university sanctioned student groups, must pay the same fees for-profit merchandise vendors pay.

An article in The State newspaper by John Drake stated this policy change was made because of NORML. Mr. Drake told me that he received that information in an email from Virginia Bedford, President of the Three Rivers Music Festival.

This year the free speech zone has been extended to 1,100 Sq. Ft. within
which we will be permitted to exercise our constitutional rights to freedom of speech up to 20 feet from our tent. Evidently, beyond that 20 foot barrier, the Three Rivers organizers have declared that the United States Constitution does not apply and free speech is strictly prohibited.

Ms. Bedford told me, that if someone not affiliated with NORML hands out our literature outside the authorized free speech zone, we will be removed from the festival. She then went on to state that if I want to sue her after the festival is over that is okay with her.

Ms. Bedford is knowingly planning on breaking laws and violating the United States Constitution. She knows she will be culpable for these violations, yet feels this tactic is justified to suppress our message.

Ms. Bedford told me that all vendors will be watched closely for violations of the twenty foot limit and that Midlands NORML would be watched closest of all since we broke the rules last year by violating the festival's limited free speech policy.

I suspect that someone working with the festival organizers might sabotage
us. They could employ a number of tactics, including the distribution of drug law reform literature away from our space and then remove us from the festival for breaking the rules, despite that their rules violate the Constitutionally protected right of expression and speech.

Our message is not to advocate the use of marijuana or breaking any laws
regarding use or possession. Rather, it is teaching the truth about the most beneficial plant on the planet, cannabis sativa, and exposing the lies the US Government has been perpetuating for almost 70 years in their attempt to eradicate this plant from the planet.

We teach the benefits of industrial hemp and how hemp can save the planet. We teach about the medical benefits of cannabis for many ailments. We teach about the damage prohibition has caused and is causing in our society. We show how gangs exist and children have easy access to illegal drugs because of prohibition. We advocate for a change in laws to stop arresting adults for the responsible use of marijuana.

If you feel the policy of the festival organizers is wrong you might want to contact Virginia Bedford and let her know how you feel. She can be reached at any of the following which are in the public domain:

Virginia Bedford
Three Rivers Music Festival
1511 Taylor St.
Columbia, SC 29201

Fax 803-401-8992
Email -
Yahoo newsgroup, not-moderated:

Home address:
Virginia Bedford
2926 Clark St.
Columbia, SC 29201
fax 803-254-9568

In order to ensure she gets your message you may wish to use every means
available to contact her. She arguably ignores mail that she doesn't like.

I would appreciate you forwarding this plea for help to everyone you know who supports free speech.

Live free or die!

Henry Koch
Midlands NORML

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