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The first 2 days of Hempfest were a bit cloudy, but Sunday is sunny. The man at the first parking lot I try outside the park said they had raised their prices because they were expecting 100,000 attendees that day alone. He could have been right- the pathways are filled with all kinds of weed-loving people. Young parents have their children in tow, knowing that they will grow up in a world with less stigma and taboos around a certain plant. Crust-punks call out “I’ve got a hole in my bowl, could you plug it with a nugget?” Over 100 marijuana activists and industry leaders wander from stage to stage to promote continued change in policy. A 420 Nurse looks a bit too stressed for someone with a joint in her hand, but smiles when I tell her so. Local cops on bicycles zoom past pot smokers, clearly not there to ruin anyone’s day for simply enjoying a smoke.
Hempfest is a feat of organization that is barely comprehensible. For a little over a week each year a dedicated team of activists takes over Myrtle-Edwards Park in Seattle, WA to temporarily transform the fields and shoreline into something entirely different. With multiple fully functional kitchens, six stages and well over 150,000 attendees, the attention to detail is so evident it is astounding. There are meals, water and coffee for all the volunteer staff, performers and speakers. They taste better than the fare at some restaurants, let alone food that’s been cooked in a park. There are earplugs at the stages where performers or volunteers might need them because of the amplification. Signs discouraging vandalism are zip tied to places that would be easy to vandalize. Backstage areas are decorated with colorful fabric, each area with its own personality. It’s such intricate infrastructure, and it works.
Hempfest is definitely an experience in FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but it’s great to know there’s no wrong choice. 3 days is just not enough to experience everything that the biggest marijuana legalization rally has to offer. The Ric Smith Hemposium hosts panels on everything from hemp to CBD to women in the industry, with expert panelists who can provide information and a point of view that could otherwise be difficult to access. The other 5 stages feature incredible musicians and speakers who support the cause. The mile-and-a-half long, narrow park is lined with vendors hawking everything from handmade glass and the latest in weed technology to hippie festival garb, from local art to gluten-free biscuit sundaes. It’s the perfect spot to pick up something one-of-a-kind.
The state of Washington passed I-502 in 2012, legalizing marijuana for recreational use. There are aspects to the law that are not ideal, like the continued prohibition of home growing and the hefty taxes on retail marijuana. That being said, the people of Washington sent a clear and important message to the nation and federal government by passing the initiative: Weed doesn’t have to just be medical; it is appropriate for responsible adult use in a recreational manner.
This year was a historic Hempfest because it was the first time that the event featured “smoking lounges,” areas for attendees 21 and over to consume cannabis legally without even the slightest risk of a public view citation. These 2 sizable spots were surrounded by a fence barrier which shielded the occupants from the view of any passerby. While many certainly chose to smoke elsewhere, the lounges were never too hectic, filled with comfortable places to sit and some interesting booths to peruse. One area even featured an assortment of electronic nails for B.Y.O. Dabs. Most importantly, Hempfest has set a precedent that others can follow for toking areas at public events and how to establish them in an environment of legalized marijuana.
The fight is far from over but Hempfest is evidence of at least a battle won for marijuana and the rights of marijuana users. It is some powerful momentum to keep going, but as more states follow in the adoption of progressive cannabis policies, Washington will always be one of the two first states to legalize. Hempfest will continue to draw stoners from across the country and around the world to that northwest corner of the nation, and it will continue to be an inspiration to those who are lucky enough to be there.
Photo Credit: Laurel Snyder