Climate Change Project

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Mass Gatherings and Public Events

Municipal Mass Gathering Permits - Coalition for the Abolition of Marijuana Prohibition v. City of Atlanta, No. 99-11385 (11th Cir. 2000)

Coalition for the Abolition of Marijuana Prohibition (CAMP) is a group advocating the legalization of marijuana.  Additionally, CAMP sponsors the Great Atlanta Pot Festival (the "Pot Festival"), a direct action event advocating changes in the laws governing marijuana.  CAMP held the Pot Festival in Atlanta's Piedmont Park from 1990 through 1995. Prior to 1995, the appellants erected a stage with a cover, stage lights and barricades for the use of speakers and musical performers during the Pot Festival. During the Pot Festival, CAMP distributed printed information regarding the uses of marijuana and the hemp plant and advocating the repeal of all laws prohibiting the use of marijuana. CAMP also sold products, such as t-shirts, bearing messages about marijuana. Other vendors sold food and drinks.  In 1995, the City of Atlanta requested that CAMP apply for an outdoor festival permit. The City explained that, because the Pot Festival had evolved into a larger, more commercial event, attracting approximately 30,000 attendees and featuring concerts, political speeches, and vendors selling food and merchandise, it now fell within the 1994 Festival Ordinance's definition of an "outdoor festival."  When the appellants complied with the City's request and applied for a festival permit, their application was denied because the City determined that "`the previous history of this event indicates to a reasonable certainty that public safety would be compromised substantially.'"  This was based on the recommendation of the Atlanta Police Department. The police department had estimated that in 1994 at least half of the Pot Festival attendees openly smoked marijuana in blatant defiance of the law and therefore, "[i]n the opinion of police officials monitoring this event, any attempt to enforce the law on such an occasion would require unusually large numbers of police officers and would be likely to provoke a civil disturbance."

CAMP brought suit in federal court alleging that the ordinance was unconstitutional and sought an injunction to force the city to grant it a festival permit.  The district court, finding that CAMP could hold a political rally and escape the reach of the ordinance (it distinguished between political and commercial events) did not grant the injunction, but did find the administrative review portions of the ordinance unconstitutional because they did not have a clear end point that would allow judicial review.  While the could continue to enforce the bulk of the ordinance with the unconstitutional portions severed, it was confusing to do so and a new ordinance was drafted.  This raised the first issue in the case: does a new ordinance moot the proceeding?  The court found that the new ordinance should be reviewed as a continuation of the old, otherwise the city could escape judicial review by constant slight revisions of the ordinance.  The court then reviewed the ordinance to assure that it did not improperly infringe on protected speech.  The key issue in the analysis was whether the ordinance was content neutral on its face.  Unlike the previous ordinance, which distinguished between political and non-political events, the new ordinance only with the size of the gathering, the types of facilities involved, and the protection of health and welfare of the participants and the general community.  In particular, the ordinance provides that "[n]o applicant for, or recipient of, an outdoor festival permit shall be required to provide for, or pay for the cost of, public safety personnel necessary to provide for the protection of a festival and its attendees from hostile members of the public or counter-demonstrators, or for traffic control, or for general law enforcement in the vicinity of the festival."  This resolved the problem that groups with unpopular messages could be denied permits because of the potential cost of dealing with counter-protesters - an unacceptable form of content control.  The court found that the city could charge the permit holder for the costs of providing sanitation facilities and site cleanup related to the activities of its own participants.  This case has a useful review of the law and practical considerations in drafting mass gathering regulations.

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