Electric music fills the ground of Killer’s Tacos as members of local rock band Blue Feel are illuminated by lights of blue, red and green. While attendees gather around the stage, others venture outside to visit members of the Denton art community at numerous vendor booths. As the night continues, artists and audiences alike gather to celebrate another mutual collective — the local cannabis community.
“To host a 4/20 festival is something I’ve always dreamed of,” said James Dolly, organizer of Punks and Painters and lead singer of ¿Everything is Temporary? “Weed is my favorite thing in the whole world, so it’s really cool to be a part of an event like this.”
Legalize Fest was hosted by Local artist collective Punks and Painters hosted Legalize Fest on April 20 and 21. With over 40 featured bands and vendors, the event was one of the highest turnout rates the group has seen so far. Sarah McPartland, local artist and Punks and Painters member, said seeing such a supportive crowd encourages her to continue her work collaborating with other artists in the collective.
“It’s a mutually beneficial thing because the people coming get to have the show experience, the vendors get to sell their art and the bands get to be supported by their fans,” McPartland said. “Everybody kind of gets more awareness out there and it’s special to see.”
Legalize Fest also featured tabling and petition signing for Decriminalize Denton, a cause Dolly said several of the event’s organizers and supporters are familiar with. The local group has been working since February to gain petition signatures for marijuana decriminalization to get on the ballot this fall. Dolly said working in support of such organizations through Punks and Painters events demonstrates how his group has grown to be able to positively influence others.
“Now we’re actually reaching a point where we can actually make a difference in the community,” Dolly said. “It’s really cool to be part of helping decriminalizing, potentially legalizing, [marijuana] here because Texas needs that badly.”
Madison Powers, integrative studies senior and co-owner of delta-8 dispensary Green Goddess Revival, was one of the fest’s featured vendors. Powers has worked closely with Decriminalize Denton and has taken petitions with her to all of the dispensary’s events. Being a part of the cannabis community, Powers said legalization is something she would love to see in Denton and is passionately working toward.
“It’s been really great to see this start to happen in Denton because it’s something that’s a little bit overdue,” Powers said. “Being able to work with [Decriminalize Denton] and help spread the word about what they do is something I’m really excited to be seeing in our community.”
Powers believes shedding light on decriminalization and what it could do for the Denton community is important due to the number of people that could be impacted by it.
“The whole reason we’re looking at [decriminalization] is because we have people who are sitting in jail that don’t need to be sitting in jail for small drug offenses,” Powers said. “That’s a huge deal when it comes to talking about decriminalization and the unfair laws that are placed, especially on people of color. So, I think that Legalize Fest is a great avenue for Decriminalize Denton to connect with the community over issues like that.”
Tristan Seikel, Decriminalize Denton Executive Director and university alum, said although April 20 was the group’s self-imposed deadline for petition signing, they will continue to collect signatures until May 3. While the organization will continue to verify signatures over the next few weeks, Seikel believes they have now surpassed their original 2100 signature goal with around 2400 signings total. Seikel said he has been amazed seeing the support Decriminalize Denton’s movement has gained throughout the community since it began.
“It’s an incredible feeling to know that we’ve hit the goal,” Seikel said. “For me, I’m not going to have that sigh of relief until we’ve turned them in and the city says it’s good […] but I would say as of now, it looks very certain that that’s going to be the reality here.”
Seikel described the decriminalization campaign as a Texas two-step, meaning gathering signatures is only half of the movement’s battle. Once the group officially has the required signatures needed to put the ordinance on the November 2022 ballot, their next step is making sure that a majority of Denton votes in favor of it in the fall. Over the summer, Decriminalize Denton plans to organize extensive outreach in terms of local events in order to get people mobilized and develop a network of contacts.
Seikel said as the group continues its work, members hope to get the eventual change they have worked for years to see in Denton.
“Right now, we’re continuing to do everything we can to make that possible,” Seikel said. “The job’s not done for sure.”
Featured Image: The band Primo Danger plays within a smoke-filled Killer’s Tacos at Legalize Fest in Denton on April 20, 2022. Photo by Abigail Mueller