Moonbeam – The air in this small Northern town may get a little hazy at the end of this month as the annual Hempfest festival kicks off on Aug. 22.
For the last 18 years, the festival has attracted advocates and supporters of the decriminalization of marijuana, both for its recreational and medicinal uses, to the week-long music and camping event.
Robert Néron, who hosts Hempfest on his property (which is affectionately known as Chez Willys Place), said it has become somewhat of a beloved tradition for those who attend every year.
Its very special to me, its like my little kid and its the kind of festival that feels like a family, he said.
A vocal marijuana advocate, Néron brought the festival from its original location in Sault Ste. Marie to Moonbeam three years ago because of his own personal connection to the cause.
In order to manage pain from Hodgkins lymphoma and another medical condition called cervical dystonia, which causes painful, twisting muscle contractions in the neck, Néron has been licensed to possess and grow his own medical marijuana for nearly 20 years.
He explained that Hempfest serves to bring others in a similar position together and to help educate those that want to learn more in a safe environment.
Hempfest is a really great place to be, he said. You talk with people who have the same condition and beliefs as you, people come for education, enlightenment, guidance. Lots of people are going to feel less scared to attend a festival which is a community festival, one where you get educated, meet people and have a good time.
The event also comes at an interesting time this year, with the federal government in the midst of drafting legislation surrounding the legal sale of recreational pot, and Health Canada under an Aug. 24 deadline (smack-dab in the middle of Hempfest) to create new rules regarding the rights of medical marijuana patients to grow their own cannabis.
In 2014, the Conservative government overhauled the medical marijuana system and effectively prohibited patients from growing their own pot at home. Earlier this year, four patients in British Columbia challenged this in Federal court, where a judge struck down the regulations prohibiting them from growing medical marijuana and ordered the government to draft a new set of rules on the issue.
Néron, who had his own brush with the law when his medical marijuana licence briefly lapsed, said the decision wont have much of an impact either way on those like himself, who have had the right to possess marijuana for some time.
For others who have been waiting in limbo for the ability to grow their own medical marijuana, however, it could be a day of celebration.
For any of the regulars or anyone used to coming to the festival, we live this way every day of the year. This is our life, its a culture, its how we medicate its a regular day of business for us, he said. But, I can assure you that lots of people will be celebrating and having good moments thinking they can now be free and not be in fear of being arrested. It will be a good liberation day.
Néron is also in the process of opening up his own legal dispensary on the Moonbeam Hempfest grounds, as well, which he hopes will be open for business in time for the festival.
I have filed to have a not-for-profit corporation and have asked to be a legal dispensary; I am waiting for the certificate, he explained. Hopefully by Hempfest, this will be fully legal and Im quite sure it will be approved.
He stressed, however, that opening the dispensary isnt about making a profit its about helping those in a similar situation to himself have better access to affordable, medical marijuana.
Were doing this because we believe in something. Its not for us to make money, he said. The music and vibe at this place, and at Hempfest, is like a freedom – something you know that you should have been entitled to from Day 1.
The festival will begin with a few days of relaxation, games, hiking and camping.
Once everyone has had a few days to enjoy all that Moonbeam community has to offer, the entertainment portion of the event will begin on Thursday, Aug. 25 with a performance by Kapuskasing natives Barrel House Blues Band. Theyll bring the beats until approximately 9:45 p.m. that evening.
House of David Gang, a reggae/funk band from Toronto, will play for the remainder of that evening until 2:15 a.m.
There are a more than one dozen acts on the bill for the weekend, including Shift From The 902, La Tragedie from Montreal, DJ Kin Noren and DJ Fuels, Fortunate Losers, Estelle Deschamps, the Stevie Ray Vaughan Experience, the Laura Cole Band, Chezza and Crone of War.
The festival will conclude on Sunday, Aug. 28 with its annual pot-luck dinner at 5 p.m.
Food or beverages must be contributed to participate.
Néron said he is looking forward to welcoming new faces back again this year and is hopeful that some new people will join in, as well.
Dont forget the essentials like your beach towel and sunblock, he advised. Dont toke and drive be careful and I cant wait to see you!
The week-long festival will once again be held in Nerons property at 27 Cimon St. in the northeast area of Moonbeam. Tickets are available at the doors, at selected retailers in Timmins, Moonbeam and Hearst and by contacting Néron directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.