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Marijuana Advocates: ‘The Joint’s Not the Point’

March 28, 1991

GASSAWAY, W.Va. (AP) _ The National Guard’s attempt to call off a pro-marijuana rally at an armory backfired when publicity from the dispute helped attract hundreds to the event, organizers said.

The Cannabis Hemp Awareness Seminar was held Wednesday night at the Braxton County Armory.

A federal judge on Tuesday told Adjutant General Joseph Skaff the Guard couldn’t back out of a contract to rent the armory to West Virginia HEMP Inc.

″I’d like to thank General Skaff for the publicity,″ Roger Belknap, 42, founder and sole member of West Virginia HEMP, told the crowd of about 250.

″What’s unusual here is the media attention,″ said Steven Hager, editor of High Times magazine. ″We have rallied where there’s 40,000 people and we don’t see a word about it in the news media.″

Two weeks ago, the Guard said it was canceling the contract because marijuana legalization was not consistent with its principles. A National Guardsman said he thought the group was promoting rope, not marijuana, when he agreed to rent the place.

Belknap sued, and U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver ruled that access could not be denied.

Cannabis hemp, a tall herb with a strong stem, was once widely grown and made into rope, cloth and other products. Now it’s better known as the source of an illegal drug - marijuana made from its leaves and flowers.

Joe Ionno, 35, a landscaper from Athens, Ga., said hemp helped save George Bush, then a young Navy flier, when he bailed out over the Pacific during World War II. ″The fiber in his parachute seat was made of hemp,″ said Ionno.

Ionno called hemp the ″world’s premier renewable natural resource,″ saying it could be used to make paper, fuel, rope and many other items.

Other people pushing for marijuana legalization said pot helps alleviate the pain of glaucoma and chemotherapy.

″The joint’s not the point,″ said Clifford Barrows, 40, the Ohio state coordinator for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Some people at the rally said they used marijuana, others said their interest stemmed from the court fight.

″I haven’t smoked since ’77, which was the last time I went to a rally like this,″ said George Blanchard, 37, a utility company lineman. ″I’m glad they were allowed to have this here. I don’t agree with female mud wrestling and they’ve had that in here.″