Seattle Hempfest Enters New Era

By Paige Browning

Seattle’s Twenty-second annual Hempfest is scheduled to begin Friday in Myrtle Edwards park near Belltown. And times have changed. Initiative 502 has legalized recreational marijuana in Washington. Hempfest founders say as long as marijuana is illegal under federal law, their festival will still matter.

Hempfest VP John Davis (left) and founder Vivian McPeak. Photo by Amy Radil.Vivian McPeak is the founder of Seattle Hempfest, a three-day celebration of cannabis culture on the waterfront. For decades he ran it from home. It’s become a $700,000 festival with six stages and its own offices. McPeak says in recent years about 250,000 people have shown up. This year there could be more.

McPeak: “If the rain stops, I think there’s a chance that we’ll have some more people. I’m not sure how many people have been staying away because marijuana’s been illegal, it doesn’t look like it’s been a big deterrent at Hempfest. That said, I think it’s safe to assume some folks might come out for the victory celebration.”

McPeak calls marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington a game-changer, and a validation for his movement. But even under 502, the signature activity at Hempfest – smoking pot in public – is still not permitted.


Photo: Hempfest VP John Davis (left) and founder Vivian McPeak. Photo by Amy Radil.

McPeak: “As a protest action we see public smoking as both an act of civil disobedience and a free speech statement. But that said, sales are heavily regulated, we don’t allow sales of any kind and we’ll be strictly enforcing that this year.”

The Hempfest website asks people to please not sell drugs on-site. Festival vice president John Davis says Hempfest is providing a good venue for the burgeoning marijuana business community to network. Then there’s cannabis paraphernalia and typical fair food. He says marijuana-infused “edibles” are NOT on the menu, but they make their way in.

Davis: “This isn’t an open-air drug festival. And especially edibles, edibles are a scourge here.”

Every year he says some inexperienced festivalgoers end up in the first aid tent after too many brownies. And there could be more newcomers – Davis says he’s heard from various cannabis tourism groups, even a tour from North Korea.

Davis: “And so they’re coming to see. And Hempfest is a little piece of freedom, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.”

This year that means freedom even from getting citations for smoking marijuana in public. The city council hasn’t yet made that a ticketable offense. So police officers will likely just issue warnings along with free snacks.

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