Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Seattle's Hempfest 2008: World's Biggest Pot Rally Goes Green

Organizer Vivian McPeak at Seattle Hempfest, 2007. Photo: Joe Mabel

A good marijuana rally is a joyful thing.

And Seattle's Hempfest, going strong since 1991, is one of the best and almost certainly the biggest in the world.

Free admission, good music, friendly people, and a beautiful setting have always been among the reasons to attend.

Now the Hempfest, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16 and Sunday, Aug. 17 in Myrtle Edwards Park on the lovely Seattle waterfront, is greener than ever -- and I'm not just talking about smokables.

A Brief Hempstory Lesson

The rally had its genesis when the Seattle Peace Heathens Community Action Group, formed by Vivian McPeak in 1987, organized a peace vigil in 1990 protesting the Gulf War. The vigil, including workshops and teach-ins, lasted six months. Along the way it attracted counterculture icons such as psychedelic pioneer Timothy Leary and beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The protesters sang, meditated and one day invited a speaker from a marijuana law reform group.

The speaker never showed, but the seed had been planted, along with a realization of the power of public protest. As McPeak remembers it, co-organizer Gary Cooke turned to him one day and said, "Let's put a pot rally together!"

The very first Hempfest, held in the spring of 1991 at Seattle's Volunteer Park, was called the Washington Hemp Expo. It drew about 500 people. Attendance quadrupled to 2,000 when the event took its current name in 1992, and 5,000 revelers showed up in 1993. By 1994, the event had "maxed out" available space at Gas Works Park, so the event was moved to its current location, Myrtle Edwards Park, in 1995.

By 2003, Hempfest attracted an estimated 200,000 people -- a Woodstock-sized crowd -- to the park, and last year's event drew at least 150,000, with some estimates running considerably more.

Hempfest organizer Vivian McPeak at home. Photo: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Arrests are minimal at Hempfest. The Seattle Police Department traditionally takes a low-key, tolerant attitude towards the extensive pot smoking which goes on at the event, with arrests averaging around 20 for what, starting in 2001, became a two-day event (there was a grand total of one arrest that year).

The city as a whole agrees with this approach. A month after the 2003 Hempfest, Seattle voters overwhelmingly passed an initiative making the investigation, arrest and prosecution of marijuana offenses, when the drug was intended for adult personal use, the lowest law enforcement priority.

Of course, common sense rules still apply, i.e., don't blow smoke in a cop's face or give them a reason to take interest in you by acting crazy or aggressive.

A comely reveler at Seattle Hempfest 2007. Photo: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Greener Than Ever

According to McPeak, this year's event will be the most ecologically friendly in Hempfest's history.

McPeak told Reality Catcher that event programs will be printed on recycled paper, using soy ink. Cooking oil used by vendors will be converted to biodiesel fuel. Biodegradable utensils will be used in staff kitchens and by vendors, and waste will be composted.

Bike racks will be provided for those who choose to ride to Hempfest the eco-friendly way.

The Please Don't Litter Hempfest (PDLH) initiative will remind festival-goers to minimize their impact on the park. "The city gives us two days to clean up after the event," McPeak told us. "We also clean up the park before the event. When the festival is over, we leave Myrtle Edwards Park cleaner than before we got there."

A food drive for "Operation Munchies," the anti-hunger arm of Hempfest, will also be held, with attendees encouraged to bring canned or boxed, non-perishable food items.

Head-Friendly Tunage

This year's Hempfest will continue the tradition of great musical talent at the rally.

Music highlights will include Total Devastation, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Vains Of Jenna, and Los Marijuanos.

For a complete list and schedule of musical performances, click here.

Travel guru Rick Steves addresses the crowd at Hempfest 2007. Photo courtesy of Rick Steves

Pot Superstars To Speak

Some of the biggest names in the marijuana legalization movement will speak at Hempfest this year.

Scheduled speakers include the legendary Jack Herer (who gave a hell of a speech last year), travel show host and marijuana advocate Rick Steves, NORML founder Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt, Stranger writer and NORML Board of Directors member Dominic Holden, Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project, patient advocate Martin Martinez of Cannabis MD, patient advocate Dennis Moyers of Seattle Green Cross, federal medical marijuana patient Elvy Musikka, Guru of Ganja Ed Rosenthal, patient advocate Steve Sarich of Cannacare, pot comedian Roland A Duby, and Marijuana Education Project Director Alison Holcomb of ACLU of Washington.

And of course the driving force, Vivian McPeak himself, will be speaking as well.

For a list of confirmed Hempfest speakers for 2008, click here.

Spotlight On Industrial Hemp

The theme of this year's Hempfest will be "Industrial Hemp, And What It Can Do For America."

With our nation's stumbling economy, soaring gas prices, and recent global shortages of food and energy, it's a great time to recognize the fact that industrial hemp can play a useful role. There are many uses for hemp fiber, seed, and biomass. Hempfest 2008 will be putting a special "hemphasis" on the things hemp can deliver, including some special displays and presentations from leading experts. Make sure you check out the Hemposium while you're there.

Industrial hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa that contains minimal (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), meaning it has virtually no intoxicating properties.

Hemp composite fiber board and other similar products can help save our virgin forests by partially replacing tree lumber. Hemp biomass can help America break its addiction to foreign oil and fossil fuels. Hemp seeds can provide a cheap and healthy protein to aid in feeding the world. Industrial Hemp can be used for paints, oils, varnishes, cosmetics, animal feed, clothing, home insulation, and many, many other uses.

Hemp can help our nation's farmers get back on their feet by giving them an alternative to growing corn and soy, both of which deplete the soil. Hemp requires minimal pesticides and actually replenishes the soil it is grown in, replacing nitrogen and other nutrients. Hemp also has a large root ball allowing it to fight soil erosion naturally.

For more information on industrial hemp and its uses, click here.

Seattle Hempfest Core Group, 2007

Be The Movement: Volunteers Make Hempfest Happen

McPeak and a core group of around 120 volunteers plan Hempfest year-round and pay more than half the estimated $180,000 production bill with vending revenue.

"Hempfest has always been about community," McPeak told Reality Catcher when we visited with him at his University District home in Seattle. "The real story is this amazing group of volunteers."

The core group is augmented by an all-volunteer event staff roughly a thousand strong, all similarly dedicated to the cause and willing to donate their time and effort. More than 40 distinct crews work together to make Hempfast happen.

Those interested in volunteering and registering to help with this year's event should click here. Become The Movement. Don't delay - time is short.

See you at Hempfest!

Seattle Hempfest 2008 Website