SEATTLE, WA — For three days in August, hundreds of thousands of people will descend on Myrtle Edwards and Centennial Parks on Seattle’s waterfront for the 22nd annual Hempfest, traditionally the largest annual gathering of pro-cannabis supporters in the world. But following last year’s historic passage of Initiative 502, which legalized the adult possession of marijuana in the state, this year’s Hempfest promises one thing that the previous 21 did not: a victory celebration.
What started out as a “humble gathering of stoners” in 1991, conceived during a peace vigil in opposition of the first Gulf War and attracting a crowd of about 500 people, has grown to a world-renowned 3 day “protestival” celebrating human rights, equality, freedom, and of course, cannabis.
Spanning 1.3 miles, two public parks, six stages, and more than 300 vendors and being staffed by over 1,000 volunteers, Hempfest isn’t just the largest annual pro-pot rally in the world — it is also one of the largest special events in the State of Washington.
With a Special Events permit requiring a $1 million insurance policy, emergency evacuation plans, and safety and security personnel, Hempfest is not a “pot party in the park”; it is a bona-fide political rally whose organizers work closely with city officials to ensure a successful — and peaceful — annual tradition.
Past performers have included well known bands such as Potluck, the Kottonmouth Kings, Fishbone, Rehab, and countless others, with notable speakers including Jack Herer, Woody Harrelson, Rick Steves, and many local and national political figures and marijuana reform activists addressing the crowds.
This year’s event will have a distinct theme for each day of the weekend. On Friday, the festival will focus on No Federal Schedule (the End Game), followed by Harm Reduction, Youth Use & Dependency on Saturday and Voter Power: Your Vote and Democracy on Sunday.
Hundreds of arts, crafts, and political vendors stretch the expanse of both parks, and the event features a “Hemposium” replete with panel discussions and presentations, displays, and workshops.
Munchies, of course, are available from a wide variety of food vendors, but don’t expect to find any cannabis for sale; despite Washington’s relaxed marijuana laws, it is an enhanced felony to sell cannabis, cannabis food, or other drugs in a city park, with all penalties — including fines and jail time — doubled.
McPeak also points out a few important changes to this year’s event.
Most notably, handheld canister propellant torches and butane torches are no longer allowed in the park under a new city law aimed at preventing wildfires. While this may put a damper on dabbing, “we need to warn the community that those devices will be absolutely restricted by Seattle law,” McPeak says.
With the completion of the Stephen Colbert Bridge to Somewhere, accessible at 3rd Ave West and West Harrison Streets, a third entrance to Hempfest will now be open, which organizers hope will reduce some of the crowding and long lines that can sometimes form at the North and South entrances.
Because Hempfest is a free speech event in a public park, the passage of Initiative 502 will not change the event’s entrance policy to be 21+. Hempfest remains open to all ages, but organizers remind minors wishing to attend the event to discuss the matter with a parent or guardian.
In addition, Hempfest organizers would like to remind the cannabis community of the following:
Alcohol, narcotics and weapons are strictly prohibited
Dogs, with the exception of working service animals, are not allowed
Unauthorized vending is prohibited
Cannabis sales of any kind, including edible treats or medical marijuana sales, are not only prohibited at the event, but they also remain an enhanced felony in the park
No fireworks, spray paint, or handheld torches are allowed in the park
Genital nudity is prohibited at Hempfest
Overnight camping is prohibited at Hempfest, but there are several campgrounds within a short drive of Downtown Seattle
Bicycle riders must dismount and walk their bikes at all times for public safety
Please help keep the parks clean
Your Guide to Legal Pot Use From the Seattle Police Department
The Seattle Police Department issued an FAQ about what people can and can’t do with their pot as a result of the passage of I-502.