This year’s Seattle Hempfest is in the books, and after a few days to contemplate the event and read the coverage from across the country, I can’t help feel but that this may have been the most culturally significant Hempfest in years, if not ever. The exciting political and cultural developments since last year’s “protestival” provided an excellent backdrop and the news made this year in Seattle resonated across the country.
The Seattle Hempfest provides a great opportunity to network with activists from across the country, peruse vendors selling just about everything hemp and cannabis related, listen to musical acts across various genres, eat down-home food that can be found at most state fairs. Roasted corn on the cob covered in hemp butter? Yes, please! (Okay, not every state fair provides hemp butter.) You can even get great exercise at the event. If you don’t believe the exercise part, then make sure to attend the event next year and walk the entirety of the fest grounds several times. Maybe I’m just getting old, but my legs are still a bit sore.
I have long thought that the best impact of the Seattle Hempfest is the fact that over 100,000 members of the cannabis community can attend one event with very few serious episodes of violence. Now, the event has swelled to well over 200,000 people. How many alcohol-related events of 200,000+ people are there with fewer serious safety issues than the Hempfest? I doubt there are many. The event has long been a poster child for the peaceful nature of the cannabis community.
The peaceful nature of the cannabis community was somewhat tarnished a bit at last year’s event as the political tension from I-502 supporters and opponents boiled over, despite Hempfest’s neutrality on the issue. For those who may be unaware, Washington’s legalization measure concerned many within the state’s cannabis community, particularly medical cannabis patients and advocates, especially the per se driving under the influence provision that may cause patients to always be considered too-impaired to drive, despite a lack of actual impairment. The dispute between the Washington cannabis community was very hard for many advocates and made last year’s festival very uncomfortable for some attendees.
This year, many of the wounds could heal as time does indeed help, and despite concerns about I-502, the fact that all of this year’s attendees could legally possess an ounce of cannabis was a great step forward for the cannabis law reform movement. While every Hempfest has had its share of cannabis consumption, this year felt just a bit different, just a bit more free. Also, there were no debates between cannabis law reform advocates on opposite sides of the law, only discussions about where do we go from here to continue improving cannabis laws in Washington and across the country. The camaraderie and unity that is evident at most cannabis community gatherings was back.
Camaraderie this year wasn’t just among the cannabis community, but with the Seattle Police Department as well. Seattle’s police have long been very progressive towards cannabis laws, especially when compared to other law enforcement departments across the country, but the SPD have really decided to go above and beyond this year, with a spokesperson speaking at the event and handing out 1,000 bags of Doritos. The Doritios, of course, went very fast and have even been showing up on eBay. The Doritos contain information about the new cannabis legalization law and was seen by many as a “peace offering” from Seattle’s law enforcement community. While some activists dismissed the effort as just a cheap PR move or an effort to “poison” our community with “GMO junk food”, I commend the SPD on their efforts to reach out to the cannabis community. More than their PR, I am pleased with their recent actions, particularly refusing to cite people for possession in public, despite pressure from city officials, in accordance with I-75, Seattle’s lowest law enforcement priority measure passed in 2003.
Dominic Holden, one of the major activists behind I-75, and now news editor for Seattle’s alternative weekly, The Stranger, stated in his recent column, “Does Hempfest Matter Anymore?“:
Pot may be legal in Washington State, but nationally, Americans are busted for pot at a rate of nearly three-quarters of a million people a year. Lots of people can’t get jobs or scholarships or apartments because they have a pot misdemeanor on their record. Just as gay pride tells gay folks that there’s hope, Hempfest is a beacon that there’s an end to America’s backward, racist, puritanical drug war crusade.
And now that the pressure is off Hempfest to be an agent for legal change, it’s easier to appreciate the wonderful, freaky bonanza that it is.
We’ve been having dishonest conversations for decades—you’ll get hooked on all drugs after one toke—and that leads to misinformation, abuse, and distrust. Once we can admit that pot is fun, we can talk credibly about when it’s not fun. When it really is dangerous (before driving). When you shouldn’t use pot (before school). Just like we can’t talk about safe sex unless we can admit, openly, that sex is common and pleasurable, we can’t have a sensible conversation about pot in this country without acknowledging pot can be pleasurable, too. And Hempfest won’t let us forget it.
Mr. Holden does a great job summing up Hempfest-it provides hope that there is an end to the war being waged upon us. And Dominic was even kicked out of last year’s event. Know hope, my friends. Soon, we shall win the war being waged upon us, and all of us shall be free, whether in Seattle or Small Town, USA.