Our opinion: Don’t limit speech

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, August 20, 2013

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

—The First Amendment

Austin city officials and law enforcement should review the First Amendment before the first Austin Minnesota Hemp Fest scheduled for Sept. 15, as should the event’s organizers and participants.

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Deanna Jean and area organizers plan for the festival to promote the legalization of the hemp industry, and the event is being billed as a drug-free, family-friendly event featuring at least five musical acts by local and regional artists.

Regardless of whether city officials and residents agree with views expressed at Hemp Fest, organizers and participants have the right to promote the legalization of hemp and marijuana under the First Amendment — as do residents opposed to hemp and marijuana.

City officials have vowed to watch the event closely and promised to take action if organizers fail to follow city policy. But, officials and police would be very cautious and leery of taking any action to inhibit or shut down the event.

Officials voiced concerns that the event will be used to promote legalizing marijuana usage, which is an understandable suspicion, as Jean gathered more than 1,000 signatures to persuade Mayor Stiehm to publicly support decriminalizing marijuana. Something he said he wouldn’t do.

“Prohibition is ending, and it’s time we embrace this change instead of fight it,” Jean told the Herald.

But like promoting the hemp industry, demonstrations in favor of legalizing marijuana are not cause for city or law enforcement to take action to stop or prevent the festival.

We say this not to promote hemp or marijuana, but to promote the First Amendment.

Just because many may disagree with a stand or find it unsavory, that does not mean its supporters don’t have the right to voice their opinions.

We urge law enforcement and city officials not to inhibit the right to free speech. We also urge Hemp Fest participants and organizers to demonstrate in a respectful way and to obey the law — and keep their promise — by maintaining a drug-free environment.

Regardless of where people fall on the debate, one thing is certain: Both supporters and opponents of hemp and marijuana have the constitutional right to voice their opinions.