Hempfest 2019 Retro: My Ode to the Cannabis Protestival
This past weekend, I spent two days at the celebrated Seattle Hempfest, and so I am in the throes of the post-Hempfest glow and, well, exhaustion! After smoking a ton of weed in the sun, walking miles and miles, and eating unhealthy but also heavenly festival food, I feel like I could nap into September.
Anyway, I wanted to share my personal experience at Hempfest and then also convey the value that this festival, and similar events across the country, provide to the promotion of cannabis. Cannabis festivals further cannabis social justice and activism and give the cannabis community a setting in which we can come together to celebrate, promote, and shape cannabis culture.
Origins and Purpose of Hempfest
Seattle Hempfest began 29 years ago in Seattle as a pro-cannabis rally. Now, it’s the premier cannabis “protestival” and attracts over 100,000 people every year.
I find it kismet that Hempfest just celebrated its 29th year, as I am also in my 29th year of life. I’ll take that as a cosmic sign that I’ve selected the right focus for my writing: cannabis!
Vivian McPeak partnered with other Hempfest founders to create the first rally in 1990, held in Downtown Seattle. The founding members of Hempfest were influenced by cannabis activist, Jack Herer. If the name Jack Herer sounds familiar, that’s because this name pops up all over the cannabis world; the late Herer was a renown cannabis activist, wrote the infamous cannabis bible, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, and there is even a strain named after him.
Since 1990, Hempfest has been hosted around several parks in Seattle, eventually finding it’s home at Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Before cannabis was legalized in Washington State, Hempfest served as one of the only places where cannabis proponents could get together and advocate for pushing policy reform. During this era, so many people from completely different walks of life came to advocate for cannabis policy reform and cannabis legalization. Notably, this group includes Norm Stampter, former Seattle police chief, and Tommy Chong himself!
Since 2012, Cannabis has been legal in Washington state. Recreational cannabis shops (referred to as i502 shops in Washington) started opening their doors in summer 2014. Since then, Washingtonians have spent nearly $2billion on marijuana retail sales. So some people might think, do we even need a Hempfest anymore, since cannabis is already legal in Washington?
Well, let me tell you... yes, yes we do need a Hempfest. Here's why.
The reality is that when it comes to cannabis policy, there is still so much work to be done to expand cannabis access to those who need it and to undo some of the evils associated with prior cannabis prohibition. First of all, we have to look beyond the borders of just Washington state and consider the policy that exists throughout the rest of the country. Cannabis is only recreationally legal in 11 states, and 4 states don’t even have a medical program. Domestically, then, there are patients and would-be cannabis users who are not able to improve their lives through this natural medicine. And of course, the lack of federal legalization is, to put it mildly, problematic. In the absence of federal legalization, there is unclear and inconsistent regulation over the sale of cannabis and CBD products, which ultimately puts both business owners and consumers at risk. Additionally, the federal illegality of cannabis is helping to maintain faulty policies in which people continue to be arrested and incarcerated for involvement with a plant that our grandmas are now using for their arthritis.
So you see, with so much continued injustice around cannabis policy and so much more advocacy to be completed, we need Hempfest and similar festivals around the cannabis-consuming world. These events provide us cadenced check-ins and the opportunity to gather, share, and fight the powers that be with our shared voices.
For those of you who are interested in promoting Hempfest, please consider donating to the festival here.
Social Justice, Activism, and Cannabis Education
Hempfest 2019 lived up to its purpose and provided an effective setting for cannabis proponents and activists to come together to share and strategize about the problems that continue to exist in the cannabis industry.
For the very first year, Hempfest hosted an "Expungement Clinic" to assist people who have previously received non-violent cannabis offenses. The Expungement Clinic was simply a tent on the ground, filled with attorneys who were ready to help their fellow cannabis brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, the legal support provided by the Expungement clinic could only expunge prior cannabis offenses from individual's WA state records, rather than national records, on account of continued federal illegality. Still, the ability to get a cannabis offense expunged from one's state record can dramatically impact lives and allow people to search for a job or housing with greater ease. Kudos to Hempfest for initiating this clinic this year.
One of my favorite places at Hempfest is a tent called the "Hemposium". As the name suggests, this arena serves as a symposium for hemp and cannabis experts to discuss and align on pushing cannabis policy forward. On Hempfest, Day 1, I caught an engaging and informative panel discussion at the Hemposium about the various ways that cannabis can help veterans suffering from PTSD and the policies that need to change in order to implement associated solutions. The talk was facilitated by Danaca Noble, a representative of NORML Women of Washington. The panel also included influential figures such as Alison Draisin of AIMS Seattle, a clinic that provides psychiatric services through counseling and plant medicine, and Patrick Seifert of Twenty22Many, a Washington-based organization committed to reducing the rate of veteran suicide and advocating for veteran health.
The panel highlighted that while cannabis can mute the anxiety and depression that often corresponds with PTSD triggered by military combat, our laws do not align with getting veterans the access to medical marijuana that they require. In fact, VA doctors can't even recommend cannabis to veterans! Additionally, other veterans who have admitted to using cannabis to assist with their pain have had difficulty obtaining home loans due to their cannabis use. Patrick Seifert shared a sobering reality, sharing that if each time a veteran committed suicide their name was etched into a memorial, that memorial would be 3 times longer than the Vietnam War memorial.
I also had the opportunity to catch another inspirational speech on Day 3 of Hempfest. Neil Lequia, the founder of the Queers of Cannabis group, gave a compelling speech at the Hempfest Mainstage to call attention to the changes he wants to see in the cannabis industry. He touched on how we need to support many disenfranchised cannabis consumers, including budtenders who have worked in unprofessional settings to those people of marginalized communities who continue to be incarcerated for minor cannabis offenses. He also used strong rhetoric and his own personal experience to call attention to the need for the industry to embrace the LBGTQ community, saying, "We still need freedom from misogyny... We still need freedom from homophobia. Toxic bro culture has fostered an unwelcoming environment for many individuals like myself. I tried to get into the industry for years. Farms looked at me like, 'who does this faggot think he is trying to get in here?'"
Neil then went on to point out that despite the previous marginalization in cannabis, members of the LBGTQ community are more likely to be users of cannabis, and he sees this as a sign that members of this community should have a greater stake in the cannabis industry. Per Neil, "Sexual and gender minorities are more than twice as likely to use cannabis than their straight counterparts. Why is this industry not overrun by homosexuals?" He raises a valid question.
The powerful moments described above only capture a few of the meaningful discussions that were a part of this year's Hempfest. I am thankful for the opportunity to have been in these audiences and learn more about the realities that are impacting our cannabis community.
A Celebration of Cannabis Culture
Along with furthering cannabis advocacy, Hempfest is also a place to chill with friends and revel in the charm and quirkiness that is Northwest cannabis culture. I have been coming for over 10 years (yes, since I was a teenager) to catch a glimpse of all of the sights, sounds, and smoke of Hempfest. I hope to continue to attend for years to come because, to me, Hempfest is like cannabis Christmas.
What's great is that Hempfest doesn't just celebrate one "type' cannabis culture, no; rather, Hempfest is a composition of all the brands of stoner out there. At Hempfest, you'll hear EDM, rap, reggae, and rock and roll. You'll see Rastafarians and girls in crop tops advertising sleek cannabis companies. There are children and elderly people, the rich and the working class.
Hempfest booths are a gift to the senses. Artists share their work with passersby, including vibrant paintings and excellent glassware. I bought some beautiful glassware from some artists in Oregon and my husband bought a trippy, Rick and Morty themed rolling tray.
Hempfest is really just thousands of people, on the edge of the water, smiling. There is no violence, and founder Vivian McPeak attributes this to the lack of alcohol at the festival. The festival has a completely different feel than other local festivals... one of mutual love and togetherness. At 4:20, people sit on the rocks on the edge of the beach and light up in unison in a stunning moment of solidarity.
This year, I couldn't help but to compare Hempfest 2019 to a moment 50 years ago, when people from all walks of life gathered at Woodstock to celebrate individual freedom, musical and visual art, and connectedness. I'm glad that we can carry this celebration forward today, in an era where we need to cling to togetherness more than ever before.