Seattle Hempfest, for over two decades, has been a beacon of free speech and marijuana activism. Starting as a small get-together in a moderately-sized, quiet Seattle park, and growing into a bustling, at times shoulder-to-shoulder event that garners hundreds of thousands of visitors, Seattle Hempfest has grown to be one of, if not the absolute biggest free speech event in the world.
Those who’ve attended Seattle Hempfest, understand just how magical it really is. No other place in the world can you enter a festival, which spans over a mile and a half along beautiful waterfront, and find yourself absolutely embraced with marijuana culture. Hundreds of vendors fill two walkways, selling everything from handcrafted paintings and clothing, to marijuana bongs and vaporizers.
Among the vendors are numerous organizations working towards marijuana law reform. A particular segment of vendors, commonly refered to as “Activist Lane”, typically contains some of the nation’s largest reform organizations, such as NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Marijuana Policy Project. Attendees can signup as members, talk with organizational directors, etc. – among the fun and celebration, Hempfest really is a great event if you want to get involved in being a marijuana activist.
A festival (or a protestival, as the event’s founder calls it), of course, is always more fun when good food is involved, and Seattle Hempfest certainly knows how to appease its audience in this regard. Dozens of food vendors fill the event – your standards like personal pizzas and burgers are there, along with giant burritos and Chinese food. In addition to these and more, you have your unique, and entirely delicious options, such as hemp burgers (100% vegetarian), soft serve hemp ice cream, vegan and organic doughnuts from local Mighty-O (which won Food Networks national doughnut challenge), and a whole bunch more. If you get thirsty, smoothies and fruit juices are sold alongside plenty of water booths, many of which also sell Chronic Ice, a hemp tea which contains organic ingredients and grinded hemp seeds (quite delicious).
Among the food and vendors, multiple stages are constantly rotating local and national bands, as well as speeches from celebrities and politicians (notable past speakers include Woody Harrelson and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn), in addition to activists and reform advocates. With so many stages (and vendors), it’s impossible to be bored at Seattle’s Hempfest. A designated schedule for each of their stages, posted online as well as in printed guides, allows people to plan which speeches and performances they want to attend, and when.
Everyone flocks to a stage, especially main stage, as 4:20 nears – once 4:20 hits, everyone smokes up together in a joint celebration of personal freedom, and good bud. If you’re lucky enough, you may even end up with a free joint or two.
This leads to one of the most unique, and, if you’re a cannabis consumer, appealing aspects of Seattle’s Hempfest – thousands of people consuming marijuana together in the open, without police interference. Hundreds can be seen at all times sitting along the rocky waterway, toking up. People walk through the crowds smoking joints and blunts – police attend the event, though look the other way. Organizers make sure to put a stop to any vendor selling illegal substances, in order to maintain a level of equal respect with law enforcement.
Many of those who attend Hempfest are there from start to finish, each day. Starting last year, the event moved from a 2-day weekend only festival, to include Friday, which was a huge success resulting in tens of thousands of additional attendees. Attending all 3 days is a necessity for fully enjoying and embracing what the event has to offer. After the event is over, a feeling in your gut leaves you wanting more, excited for the next year, and dreaming of a more marijuana friendly world (which the event inspires you to work towards).
This year’s event, which is scheduled for August 16th, 17th and 18th, is the first since the passage of Initiative 502, which legalized the possession and state-licensed retail sale of small amounts of marijuana in Washington State. Organizers of the event, understanding that momentum must be built upon, have made the theme of this year’s Hempfest focused on the idea that marijuana should be removed as a federally controlled substance – in other words, cannabis prohibition should be repealed for adults. This is certainly a theme that the entire cannabis community can, and should get behind.
This year, organizers preparing for the event – which is a yearlong process – have a home-base. Hempfest Central, a meeting place and storefront, has become a center for everything Hempfest. Hemp products and Hempfest merchandise, are sold alongside yearly Hempfest memberships, which are vital to Hempfest maintaining the finances to run the event. Hempfest is entirely non-profit, and typically comes out of each event tens of thousands of dollars in debt – the event is entirely free, with a suggested donation that unfortunately most people ignore (if every attendee gave just $1, the event’s costs would be more than covered).
Given how tight money is, the organization is constantly fighting for survival. They’ve always pulled through, thanks to a wonderful staff, all of which volunteer. From the board of directors, to overnight security, no one is paid – everyone is giving their time based on their view that marijuana shouldn’t be illegal. Despite nobody getting paid, Hempfest has hundreds of volunteers which make the event possible, which includes everything from planning to cleanup. During the event, volunteers are rewarded with things more modest than money, such as the admiration from Hempfest supporters, and free food from the Hempfest kitchen. In addition, volunteers know that they’re helping to change public opinion on an issue that can still carry a heavy stigma – there’s a lot of power in thousands of cannabis consumers getting together and consuming their herb, without incident (the event is always extremely peaceful).
Given how challenging it must be for a group of volunteers to successfully, year-after-year, run one of the largest festivals in the world, it’s been a clear inspiration to those around the globe. Since the inception of Seattle Hempfest, other Hempfest events have popped up, and began to grow – from Moscow Idaho Hempfest, to Ontario Canada Hempfest.
For those who’ve never attended one of these festivals, especially Seattle’s, we absolutely urge you to make an effort to do so – it’s as awesome and inspiring as it sounds. If you’re in the area, or plan to be in the area, also consider volunteering, which not only gives you a great feeling of satisfaction knowing you’re helping such a great event take place, but you’ll instantly find yourself embraced in the Hempfest family.
Those who are interested in learning more about Hempfest, donating or volunteering, or simply catching a peak at this year’s lineup, can do so by visiting the official Hempfest website.