The city of Seattle buzzed with the sound of joints lighting as hundreds of thousands of pot smokers from all over the nation swarmed the city’s annual Hempfest held along the Elliott Bay waterfront in Myrtle-Edwards Park August 16th through the 18th.
The world’s largest annual three-day marijuana advocacy rally attracts an overwhelming number of stoners and marijuana activists alike, creating a stage for many to party, protest federal law and celebrate the legalization movement. While the fest provides a forum for respected marijuana advocates to voice their position on drug policy reform, others view Hempfest as an all-out weed wonderland.
The free event- expected to attract as many as 85,000 people per day- kicked off on Friday, with tokers meandering between vendor stands, music stages and educational speakers. Some attendees- with joints glued to their mouths- browsed stands selling a gallery of glass pipes in every shape, size, color and design imaginable- a pothead’s fantasy. Others purchased tie-dyed clothing, hemp products and accessories, while even more commandeered grassy knolls soaking up rays of sunshine between bong tokes.
While Hempfest reveled in their 22nd year of advocating for the legalization of marijuana, the real celebration spawned from the fact that this year’s rally marked its first gathering since Washington State voters approved Initiative 502, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and over.
Although Seattleites can freely toke up in the privacy of their homes, the focus of this year’s event remained dedicated to reforming federal marijuana laws. Vivian McPeak- Hempfest’s executive director- specifically concentrated on the removal of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning a drug that has no medical benefit and a high likelihood of abuse.
“When we started Hempfest in 1991, many people thought we were jousting in the wind,” McPeak said. “What we’ve seen with the historic passage of I-502 and measure 62 in Colorado is that change is definitely in the wind.”
Despite the fact that the festival attracts many legitimate marijuana and hemp activists hoping to educate the public on drug policy reform issues, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) managed to steal the show with their stoner snacks.
As the second day of the event kicked off on Saturday, August 17, officers began hawking bags of Doritos to the droves of pot smokers infiltrating the entrance gate. The SPD claims the publicity stunt- dubbed “Operation Orange Fingers”- acted as an attempt to educate attendees about the new marijuana laws by including a message of “dos and don’ts” on a bag of chips.
“We knew if we did leaflets, it would turn into litter,” Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb remarked. “We wanted people to be able to access the information. It’s actually fun to read. We wanted to do it in a way that is deliberately ironic.”
The SPD’s munchie madness was short-lived, with police running out of 1,000 bags of the nacho-flavored chips in less than 30 minutes. Nonetheless, the Dorito debacle became quite a focal point as stoners continue to fuel the snack economy.
Even though the SPD’s ganja goodies may have been a HIGH-light for some, Hempfest remains an important political event for many attendees. While, marijuana legalization in Washington State and Colorado stands as a THC triumph in the eyes of hemp and marijuana advocates, those involved in Hempfest continue to fight for federal rescheduling, harm reduction and industrial hemp farming in the United States.