Willie Nelson wrapped up his State Fair set list with "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" nearly two weeks ago, but Sally Stricker still is fuming.

On Sept. 4 -- about an hour before the concert -- state troopers cornered her by the insult clown's dunk tank, telling her she couldn't wear her T-shirt on the fairgrounds, she said.

The problem? Cannabis leaves on the front and back, with the words: "Don't panic, it's organic."

"They told me it was State Fair policy I could not wear something of that nature."

The Lincoln woman was surprised at first. Then angry. She would have left if she hadn't already bought her concert tickets and paid to get through the gate.

"I didn't enjoy the show because I was upset," the 40-year-old said. "I'm still upset about it."

Stricker is a member of the Nebraska Cannabis Coalition, which is trying to put a measure that could legalize marijuana on the November 2012 ballot.

The group had its own dustup in Grand Island. The coalition needs about 112,000 signatures to get its plan on the ballot, and it was banking on finding plenty of like-minded fair-goers the day of the Willie Nelson concert.

But fair managers told the group it couldn't collect signatures inside the fairgrounds without a booth -- and that all the booths were booked. So petition-seekers stayed outside the gates, said organizer Len Schropfer.

Stricker wasn't collecting names that day. She was there for the fair and the concert.

"And all of a sudden, I'm surrounded by two or three state troopers. They said, 'Ma'am, you need to go to your car and change shirts.'"

"And I'm like: 'I'm not going to my car. It's parked way down in a cornfield.'"

She was told she could turn her shirt inside out, as long as the marijuana leaf didn't show through. Instead, she changed into a Nebraska Lottery shirt she'd just won.

After the concert, Schropfer complained to State Fair Executive Director Joseph McDermott on Stricker's behalf.

Stricker said she wants an apology. "I want respect because of my beliefs and my freedom to express my beliefs."

She also wants to see the policy.

Neither is likely. The fair doesn't have a specific policy governing T-shirts, but it doesn't allow anything illegal on the fairgrounds, McDermott said Friday.

"It's been a longstanding practice that at the Nebraska State Fair, which is obviously a family event, we don't permit the promotion of illegal activity."

The fair supports the troopers' decision to ask Stricker to change her shirt, he said. "In this particular instance, the Nebraska State Patrol asking the wearer of the marijuana T-shirt to turn it inside out is in keeping with our ideals."

But Stricker also wanted to point out hypocrisy: The fair booked a performer famous for his marijuana use, a performer who was busted for pot just last year. And, at the concert, a vendor was selling Willie Nelson shirts with pot leaves, she said.

McDermott hadn't heard about the pot leaf shirts for sale, he said, and he wasn't familiar with Willie Nelson's pro-pot platform.

"To be honest, I'm not much of a Willie Nelson fan."

Reach Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.


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