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Friday, February 23, 2024
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Cannabis vendors lined up tents on Library Mall on Sunday, Oct. 1 for the Great Midwest Hemp Fest. 

The Great Midwest Hemp Fest celebrates cannabis, pushes for legal reform

The Great Midwest Hemp Fest held its annual festival at Library Mall Sunday, featuring more than 20 vendors, musicians and speakers.

The Great Midwest Hemp Fest hosted its annual festival Sunday with local vendors, musicians and advocacy for cannabis reform.  

Local vendors carrying various products including gummies, CBD oil, hemp clothing and topical relief sprays gathered near Library Mall to engage with customers. Nicklaus Rueda, festival operations manager, told The Daily Cardinal the event’s goal since its inception in 1971 is to educate people about marijuana, target unconscious ideas that go beyond medical or recreational legislation and destigmatize cannabis use.

“We're talking about the things that we aren't thinking about to try to change the mind of the general public and let them know this isn't a scary plant,” Rueda said. “We can create a better future for our children to live in one day by finding reform in cannabis here in Wisconsin.”

BioSpectrum Hemp, a Madison-based manufacturer of cannabis products, came to Hemp Fest to find new consumers and support a growing market, according to BioSpectrum representative Cole Melius. BioSpectrum sells its products to customers and vendors across the country, but Melius said the festival creates an opportunity to build a local customer base.

“[The Great Midwest Hemp Fest has] a lot of tradition here in Madison,” Melius said. “We're just wanting to be a part of that culture and community.”

The U.S. cannabis market generated $27 billion in sales in 2022 and its projected worth is $50.7 billion by 2028, according to wellness industry research firm BrightField Group

“​​People are definitely wanting the intoxicating effects, whether it's to relax, to calm down or simply to just be stoned and have a good time,” Melius said. “A huge goal is to make a product that's going to feel good.”

“It’s such a trending market,” Melius added.

Lawmaker pushes for legalization

Lending her support to statewide legalization of marijuana, state Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, said in a speech at the Capitol during the event that legalization would benefit the state’s economy.

“The industry is already here in Wisconsin,” Agard said. “It's time that we support it in a thoughtfully well-regulated and progressive manner rather than ignoring the fact that this plant exists here in the state of Wisconsin.”

The possession, manufacture and sale of marijuana is currently illegal in Wisconsin. A first offense for possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months. A second offense is a Class I felony and is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 3.5 years, according to The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

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According to 2023 data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states have legalized medical marijuana use, and 23 states have implemented laws allowing regulated recreational marijuana use. Agard, along with Rep. Darrin Madison, D-Milwaukee, introduced a bill on Friday to legalize marijuana possession for people 21 years or older.

Neighboring states Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois have legalized medical and recreational marijuana use. Agard said that by continuing to criminalize marijuana, Wisconsin risks falling behind its peers in expanding freedom for its residents.

“It is very dangerous for Wisconsin to continue to remain an island of prohibition,” Agard said. “This is perpetuating racial disparities, it is harming our economy and it is infringing on your personal liberties.”

Rueda said he hopes events like the Great Midwest Hemp Fest help normalize marijuana use, especially in places where the substance is still criminalized.

“It's not a scary drug like our government used to paint it out to be,” Rueda said. “The sooner that we can break that stigma and make it just a general statement, we will create a better future.”

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