Seattle Hempfest rocks hard!
Seattle is easily one of the most beautiful cities in America. Nestled in Puget Sound and surrounded by the breath-taking Cascade mountains, the city carries an almost mythical air of seclusion and beauty.
On the weekend of August 17-18, the city's waterfront Myrtle Edwards Park played host to the largest marijuana and drug policy event in the world. Three-hundred vendors, 50 political organizations, and 150,000 marijuana-lovers packed the mile-long, ocean-front park for great marijuana-related products, stirring speeches, and talented musicians.
Set up changes
One thing that distinguished the 2002 Hempfest from previous years was the set-up. With construction pervading the park, approximately one-third of the available space was lost to fences and hard hats.
Myrtle Edwards Park is a long, thin park situated right along the ocean. This year's construction fences made getting around the event seem like a maze. Event director Vivian McPeak said the construction made the event look like "a virtual warzone," but Hempfest organizers modified the set-up in light of the disturbance, making the event stretch out a mile and a half longer than usual.
Throughout Hempfest's history, the police have been an ominous, looming threat, always ready to upset the event's atmosphere of peaceful goodwill. Will they let pot heads celebrate peacefully, or will they initiate a flurry of arrests? This year the same questions surrounded their involvement and I was left with mixed feelings about their presence. The police generally seemed pleasant and easy to get along with, almost amicable. At a visit to the CC booth, a group of overweight, cigar-smoking Seattle cops were jovial and pleasant, despite the fact that several members of our crew were out back of our booth toking up.
This doesn't mean that the police were angelic at this year's rally. There were horror stories lingering throughout the event like wafting clouds of pot smoke. One young girl who visited the CC booth said that Seattle authorities sent her boyfriend to a Spokane jail for the weekend. Apparently, after finding the young man smoking a joint, police searched him to discover an ounce in his possession. This was enough for them to send him to a distant state jail. He wasn't the only unlucky stoner - in all, eleven poor souls had their freedom compromised by Seattle cops over the weekend.
From the main stage, McPeak said that police were not to blame for the arrests at Hempfest. "It's the bad laws," McPeak proclaimed, because "the police are just doing their job." When it was announced that someone with two pounds was arrested, McPeak said that he was an "idiot" for bringing that much weed to Hempfest.
To McPeak's credit, he later told Cannabis Culture how he helped a wheelchair-bound spina bifida patient regain his medicine after police had seized it.
According to McPeak, Keith Stroup, Executive Director of NORML, motioned him to the rear of the NORML booth, where he saw Stroup, Elvy Musikka (one of the handful of US federal government medical marijuana recipients), "John," the spina bifida patient, and High Times writer Kyle Kushman huddled behind the tent, surrounded by four police officers.
All of a sudden "the police officer that was in charge reached down and picked up a wooden box, like a shoe box; and he opened it up, and he pulled out what looked to be about an ounce; then pulled out what looked to be another ounce. Then he pulled out what looked to be about a quarter-ounce, another quarter-ounce? and a chunk of hash," recounted McPeak.
After finding the stash, McPeak said the officer got on his radio and asked where the mobile holding station with a cell for four was. At this point, McPeak said that all he could do was pray, and who can blame him? Four major marijuana activists were about to be sent to jail! The implications would have been scandalous.
According to McPeak, "John," the spina bifida medical marijuana patient from New Jersey, said to police: "That's my medicine. You can't take my medicine. I need my medicine. " The officer replied, "You're not in New Jersey anymore." McPeak then stepped in and took control of the situation. After fifteen minutes of discussing the benefits of medicinal marijuana, the officer promptly returned John's medicine and told McPeak and company to "be more discreet," said McPeak.
Despite looming police aggression, walking through Hempfest was like a dream. While wading through the mobs of cannabis connoisseurs, one was bound to bump into a hero of the movement. In one tight corner, behind the main stage, I found two secluded tents kitty-corner to each other. One was home to marijuana grow guru Ed Rosenthal of "Ask Ed" fame, the other manned by the Hemporer himself, Jack Herer.
I spoke with Ed Rosenthal, who was arrested last February for his part in allegedly producing cannabis for the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club (CC#37, DEA attacks med-pot and hemp). Despite facing a potentially long prison sentence in a federal penitentiary, Rosenthal appeared to be his normal self, in good spirits and very upbeat and optimistic.
"I have lots of support from the community and I have very good legal advice," Rosenthal told me. "I'm sure that the outcome of my trial will be that I'm found not guilty and the government, itself, is found guilty."
Jack Herer's tent was covered in his best-selling book The Emperor Wears No Clothes and his famous hand-carved wooden pipes. Even though Jack is visibly slowed by his stroke of two years past (CC Online, "The Hemperor" collapses during Oregon festival), talking to him is almost mythical, much like the general ambience of the festival itself.
Being in the presence of his passion for legalization, one gets the sense of why he founded the movement that so many of us belong to. He told me how he's still campaigning hard for the cause.
"I'm coming out with a new copy of my book. And I'm going to tour around the country," Jack said.
I made my way to the NORML booth, where Keith Stroup, that organization's Executive Director, had just gotten off stage. High off his medical marijuana debate on CNN's Crossfire, Stroup had nothing but good things to say about the direction of marijuana legalization in the US.
"If the movement's progress continues for another five years, I think we'll totally legalize medical use throughout the US," predicted Stroup. "I think we'll add another eight or 12 states to the list where we no longer arrest marijuana smokers."
Several of BC's top pot activists made their way down to Seattle, including prominent Canadian lawyer John Conroy.
Reflecting on the Canadian Hempfest experience, Conroy told me that Hempfest is a great opportunity to "tell all the Americans what's going on in Canada, not only in terms of changes in our laws, but also what's happening to all of their refugees coming up our way to flee from the Drug War."
And that was just the message Conroy conveyed when he gave a rousing speech on the main stage, capturing the imagination of the large crowd that had assembled to hear him.
BC's local activist punk band Side 67 took the stage after Conroy's speech on Saturday night, rocking the crowd with hard-driving music from the hempen heartland. Ska-funk rockers Fishbone also wowed the crowd.
"I really, really like their music," said McPeak, referring to Side 67, "that was a high point for me."
Event a success
The general mood among activists and event-goers was that Hempfest was a total success. Seeing 170,000 marijuana lovers assemble over two days in one of the world's most pristine settings is something no pot person should miss.
Hempfest is the world's largest marijuana rally and if you can make it, it's well worth the drive. The speeches are among the best you can hear. The vendors have some of the best glass around. And the bands do themselves great justice.
I had a lot of fun, and like most people there, I can't wait for next year. See you there!
? The Seattle Hempfest, PO Box 95650, Seattle, WA 98145-2650; phone: (206) 781-5734