seattle hempfest

An article at leading up to the recent 25th Seattle Hempfest suggested that this “may be the last” Hempfest due to the event’s financial problems. The author, KIRO radio host Jason Rantz, opined: “I’m OK if it is.”

A veteran of well over 100 pro-cannabis rallies all around America, I’ve always seen them as an integral part of an effective effort to help end cannabis prohibition in our lifetimes. However, in the states where ganja is now a legal and taxed commodity for adult consumption, large cannabis-centric rallies should pivot from being important protest vehicles over a failed public policy to responsible adult celebrations of cannabis products, in a manner similar to the ubiquitous beer, wine and whiskey festivals. States that have staged large public pro-pot rallies can now help lead the charge.

Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska—your days of hosting rallies against pot prohibition have thankfully come to an end. Logically, the resources and effort once put into such events in these now-reformed states need to be directed to states still gripped by pot prohibition (like Florida, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio)—where the sacred herb is illegal and enforcement continues. The focus of such events should be on legalization, and not on niche issues like medical access or industrial hemp. Flipping these politically important states is a more efficient strategy for reformers than slogging it out for decades in states like Kansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia and the Dakotas.

A few years ago, Seattle Hempfest branched out with the idea that they could replicate the event’s tremendous success in other states. With legal cannabis sales in Washington State now totaling nearly a billion dollars, Hempfest should consider taking the battle to Austin, Tallahassee, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City, where the staff’s organizing skills and political moxie is really needed these days.

A good example of the pivot from protest to celebration has occurred in Portland, where, for over a decade, the state’s cannabis consumers and producers/sellers have come out of their smoky closets annually for Hempstalk (this past Sept. 24–25), a public protest against the long-failed and unpopular prohibition of pot. Two years after full legalization in the state, and some necessary negotiations with city officials, Hempstalk has morphed from a protest rally into a public celebration of cannabis. That’s the move that other such events should follow.



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  1. Pam 11 months ago

    Seattle Hempfest is necessary to continue so that all the other states have something to look forward to. Take away our celebration and what bright light do they have to struggle towards? Perhaps all the big sponsors of Hempfest pay their sponsorship bills and the festival won’t be in financial duress.

  2. vivian mcpeak 11 months ago

    The recent hit piece by KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz has at least created a dialogue about the role that large public cannabis events like Seattle HEMPFEST® can play in a post-legalization America (not that we feel we are quite t here yet, even in our state of Washington).

    First off, cannabis is still federally illegal as a Schedule One substance that is still included in the Controlled Substances Act. While it feels pretty legal here in our state as adult citizens utilize their opportunity to patronize brick and mortar pot-stores relatively free from any threat of arrest or prosecution, technically, that could all change with a new presidential administration, or with the right court challenge.

    As satisfying as it may be to have a growing retail cannabis industry operating in several states with relative impunity, it has come at a high price for some medical patients who have lost the ability to adequately secure organic, medical grade strains and oils that many require to treat and manage the symptoms of their disease.

    Those who live in public housing (and some renters) in our state have no consumption protections, and tourists from other states who come to Washington have virtually nowhere they can legally imbibe because of archaic legislation preventing clubs, lounges, or other consumption zones.

    There is no home-grow allowed in Washington for those who are not legal medical marijuana patients, and for those who are there has been a dramatic reduction in the amounts a patient can grow or possess – even if they add their names to the disturbing state registry that has been enacted. We all know how vulnerable that kind of data is in this day and age.

    A 2014 economic impact study revealed that Seattle HEMPFEST generates as much as $7,000,000 for King County and supports as many as 120 local jobs. Over $400,000 was distributed from the ATM’s located at HEMPFEST this year. At this year’s HEMPFEST our volunteer voter registration crew registered 1,982 Washingtonians to vote.

    So, even with the current political theme there is a lot that an event like Seattle HEMPFEST can contribute to the community and region that it takes place in.

    Also, Seattle HEMPFEST has been generating money and awareness for Americans serving excessive prison time for cannabis and non-violent drug charges. We brought two prisoners we supported who were recently freed, Jeff Mizanskey and George Martorano, to HEMPFEST this year so they could experience freedom in a way they had never before. There are still over 50 Americans serving life in prison for cannabis related offenses who require advocacy and attention from somebody. If events like ours decided to become cultural events today, whose voice would be advocating for the vast majority of Americans who are still living under the specter of prohibition?

    All politics may be local, but the impacts of advocacy can be much greater than that.

    While I do not disagree with the general premise that cannabis related events such as Seattle HEMPFEST should start to look down the road to a time when they transition into cultural celebrations and industry conventions, in the way that, for example, Octoberfest events celebrate the culture and industry that surrounds beer, I am not certain that I agree that the time has yet come when such a change in focus is deserved.

    In addition, the only change I can envision from our (Seattle HEMPFEST’s) current programming to complete the stated switch would be less or no political speeches coming from the stage. The vendors, the music, and the merriment would no doubt continue to be a draw in a post-legalization environment. So, what all would be changing other than, perhaps, Martha Stewart doing an edible joint-rolling class?

    Don’t expect the speeches to end just yet.

    We feel it may be premature to herald the demise of the pot rally in states where retail consumers have made much progress but where patients, home growers, renters, those who live in public housing, and tourists are still left behind in the push for actual legalization.

    All of that said, nobody is more sensitive to the changing cannabis landscape than we are here at Seattle HEMPFEST. But our challenges come more from a perfect storm of bad, hindering legislation that hog-ties the advertising interests of retail licensees on public property, excessive permitting requirements instituted by the city, cannabis event market saturation that creates greater competition for a still static number of potential advertisers and sponsors (as mainstream companies have yet to jump on the bandwagon), and the general weather -based obstacles of outdoor event production.

    We are working hard on our 26th annual Seattle HEMPFEST event, and looking forward to a time when our current model might be antiquated and obsolete. However, we are not yet convinced that that time has come and we’ll be working hard to make it so.

  3. vivian mcpeak 11 months ago

    I should add that my comment above about what would be different is obviously answered by the unlimited potential that more mainstreamed cannabis events will offer, and the sky really is the limit. So, in that regard, I can certainly agree that normalzing pot events and making them more attractive and geared for the mainstream is a logical next step in the evolution of the legalization effort.

    Less politicized events that focus on the social and cultural attractions of cannabis will be the most powerful form of activist events in that they will further demystify the herb while taking away the stigma and controversy associated with it today. But I still stand by my predictable and defensive rant that, while the transition has certainly begun, in my opinion the time to abandon the pot rally is still a ways down Highway 420.

    • Morris 11 months ago

      Good comments. I agree.

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