Seattle's 11th annual Hempfest (http://www.seattlehempfest.com), probably the world's largest single pro-cannabis event, came off hot and crowded but trouble-free last weekend as members of the Pacific Northwest cannabis culture flooded into Myrtle Edwards Park on Puget Sound for two days of music, speeches and cannabis commerce. Sounding the theme of "pot pride" and urging marijuana users to come out of the closet, speaker after speaker called for marijuana legalization and a variety of other drug and social policy reforms in what Hempfest organizer Dominic Holden called a "protestival."
Holden told the crowd that Hempfest this year wanted people "to come out of the closet on marijuana and admit that they are responsible marijuana users" and demand that they no longer be treated as criminals. Getting special attention was local cause I-75, a Seattle initiative that would direct police to make enforcing marijuana use and possession laws their lowest priority. Throughout the two-day event, petition gatherers circulated in the crowd, hoping to gather enough signatures to make the November ballot.
"The war on drugs is a miserable war, it is a racist war," Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata told the crowd on Saturday. "We here in Seattle, with Initiative 75, are going to be the first to change it."
Despite vows of "zero tolerance" and a handful of arrests for marijuana sales, police at Hempfest generally behaved as if I-75 was already in effect. Although drug paraphernalia is illegal in Washington state, police ignored the thousands of glass pipes and similar items on sale at the event. "If they have a sign saying they are for tobacco use only, they're not paraphernalia," opined Lt. Daniel Whelan as he patrolled the grounds. But police were reluctant to admit that they had reached an accommodation with the festival. When asked whether there was an agreement to allow open marijuana use on the rocks lining the park's shoreline, Whelan said no. "We enforce the law," he told DRCNet. "But we are here for public safety. Arresting pot smokers takes time and it is a matter of priorities," he said. Clearly, the priority for Seattle police was to ignore the clouds of pot smoke billowing into their faces from the rocks.
Speaking from six stages scattered the length of the park, local and national drug reformers including Keith Stroup and Allen St. Pierre of NORML, Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy, medical marijuana patient Elvy Musikka, "pot pride" campaign organizer Mikki Norris (http://www.cannabisconsumers.org), November Coalition leaders Nora Callahan and Chuck Armsbury, Ohio Hempery's Don Wirtshafter and many more.
But for many in the crowd, it was a case of bongs not ballots. Thousands appeared to have arrived mainly for the "smoke-in"-like ambience and the opportunity to browse among the hundreds of vendors of pipes, hempen wares, tasty foods and assorted other products. And for others, it was an opportunity to express their own personal causes. One pair of men near the south gate held up signs urging "Jail Dentists Not Pot Smokers" and handed out incomprehensible pamphlets arguing their case. Something about mercury filling affecting brain function. So it goes.
As the cannabis culture grows toward mainstream acceptance -- as is the case in Seattle, at least on Hempfest days -- it increasingly picks up mainstream attributes including political passivity and consumerism. For reformers who look to the cannabis masses, you might be better off manufacturing bongs. Or, less harshly, understand once and for all that smoking pot doesn't necessarily make one a radical or a revolutionary, or even a reformer.