Seattle Gives Pot Peace a Chance

What the rest of the country can learn from the world's largest marijuana festival


Crossing the West Thomas Street Overpass into Seattle's Myrtle Edwards Park on Friday afternoon, I hear a guy remark, "Next year, I'll be turning 23, and so will Hempfest!" His companion seems unimpressed by this discovery. "That's because Hempfest started the same year we were born," he says. The first guy persists, undaunted by his friend's lack of enthusiasm. "I know," he says with a broad smile. "Crazy, right?"

It is pretty crazy, actually, that Hempfest, the world's largest marijuana "protestival," has been around longer than many of its participants. The three-day event, which features music, food, drug policy speeches, and hundreds of cannabis-related vendors, attracts about 250,000 people, a good portion of whom can be seen (and smelled) smoking pot at any given moment. Yet the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has learned to live with this annual affront to prohibitionist sensibilities, providing a lesson in tolerance for other cities.

Under I-502, the legalization initiative that Washington voters approved last November, adults 21 and older may possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Consuming it publicly, however, is a civil infraction punishable by a $103 fine. Yet no tickets were issued to the blatant tokers at Hempfest last weekend. "You could be cited," the cops explained, "but we'd rather give you a warning."

That message was on stickers affixed to 1,000 one-ounce bags of Doritos that police distributed at Hempfest on Saturday—a publicity stunt that attracted international attention while conveying the SPD's laid-back approach to marijuana consumers. Speaking from the festival's main stage, the department's chief spokesman emphasized "leniency, education, and patience" rather than "a heavy hand."

The SPD's hand was considerably heavier in the early years of Hempfest, when there were a lot more arrests for drug offenses. Longtime festival director Vivian McPeak says it took years of engagement to convince the police that Hempfest attendees should be viewed not as invaders but as fellow citizens delivering "our message of freedom, responsibility, and peaceful reform."

It helped that in 2003 Seattle voters approved I-75, which declared simple marijuana possession the city's lowest law enforcement priority. It also helped that McPeak and his friends put together their own security, first aid, and cleanup crews, which allow the festival to function smoothly with a minimal police presence in and around the 1.5 miles of picturesque waterfront parks it currently occupies.

Wandering Hempfest amid the least furtive pot smokers in America, it is easy to forget that outside this oasis of freedom police continue to treat cannabis consumers as criminals. In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, there were about 758,000 marijuana arrests in the U.S., the vast majority for possession.

Even in supposedly enlightened and cosmopolitan places such as New York City, police continue to bust people for carrying small amounts of marijuana. The NYPD made more than 50,000 such arrests in 2011, up from less than 10,000 in 1996.

That crackdown is especially impressive because the state legislature decriminalized possession of up to 25 grams in 1977. Cops manage to arrest pot smokers anyway by charging them with "public display" of any marijuana turned up during street stops.

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly concedes that maneuver is illegal. According to a federal judge, so is the "stop and frisk" program that generates many of the pot busts. The NYPD, in other words, has not simply been enforcing the law; it has been breaking the law for years, just to stick it to pot smokers.  

No wonder the ordinarily even-tempered McPeak gets hot when he contemplates the injustice of marijuana prohibition. "We are not criminals!" he declares from the Hempfest stage. "We are Americans, and we're proud and we're loud!"

By punishing people for their consumption decisions, marijuana prohibition makes the personal political, which is why simply lighting up at Hempfest is an act of dissent. McPeak and his fellow activists are fighting for the day when a joint is just a joint.


NEXT: Brickbat: Though This Be Madness

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  1. Consuming it publicly, however, is a civil infraction punishable by a $103 fine.

    Sounds like it’s time for Seattle to impose a $105 cover charge to get into the festival. ($2 extra per head = PROFIT!)

    1. But profits are teh EVUL!!!!!11!! according to many a prog-derp.

      Oh wait, private KKKORPORAT profits are teh EVUL, when government does it it’s OK because it’s for the greater good.


      1. Washington managed to evade that problem by tasking the former liquor control board, which was obviated by a law privatizing state liquor stores, with establishing the retail outlets where pot can be sold. Win-win!

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  2. Jack Frapp Daddy is not going to like that at all

    1. Jack Frapp Daddy doesn’t like ANYTHING. What a Gloomy Gus.

      1. Jack Fap Daddy on the other hand likes far too many things

  3. So, I foolishly tried Bill Troll’Reilly again last night, and HE informed me that this pot thing has ruined a generation, and “kids stoned all the time” won’t learn…math…or something. So this should be stopped, “for the children”, for whom he “feel[s] sorry”.

    All I thought was, I went from 8th grade through college stoned on my ASS, including in class, got a four point in HS, graduated college Magna Cum Laude…. Managed to get a “good” job, made a SHITLOAD more money than I ever dreamed of, raised three kids who are all in or through college and well on the way to taking care of themselves(only one of whom I smoked pot with…just once!)…Now thinking about retirement (HOLY SHIT!)…AT WHICH POINT I WILL RESUME SMOKING POT LIKE A CHIMNEY.

    Fuck off, Bill the Concern Troll. Apart from being totally wrong about everything you put forth on this subject, you made the odious Krauthammer sound like fucking Wavy Graavy (words to the effect “If I had to choose between alcohol or pot, pot results in much less carnage than alcohol…basically none except perhaps a tendency to laziness”).


    1. Oh, PS – best subjects? MATH AND SCIENCE. But, yeah, teh Potheads? can’t learn math because…Potheads. Or something.

      You need to light up and leave me alone, Bill.

      1. That was a bad-ass rant.

      2. Your sample group of 1 notwithstanding, it’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t be better if underage students weren’t on recreational drugs of any kind when they’re supposed to be learning. Like it or not, pot does have short-term memory effects, and may just result in lapses of judgment among teenage morons for whom lapses of judgment are pretty much the norm anyway. I think you’d have a hard time finding any research to support your position. It was my understanding that even most libertarians were generally okay with keeping children from indulging in the activities we support for adults.

        1. We do not exist to serve society. Whether society would be better off if no one smoked pot if nobody’s business; society is not some *thing* under control of a few self-appointed elites. Society is the result of what people do, with no masters and no servants.

          1. I never once in that entire post mentioned “society”. What I said was that “it’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t be better if underage students weren’t on recreational drugs of any kind when they’re supposed to be learning”. Underage students being the operative words. And I meant for the sake of each individual student, not the students as a collective (I don’t think one student using drugs would really affect another student one way or the other in terms of academic performance). Kids do and should have masters, because they are, by and large, too stupid to function independently. And it’s hard to imagine a libertopia devoid of “masters” in a broad sense of the term. In libertopia, your boss could, say, have a no drugs policy on the job and decide to randomly drug test and fire you – his prerogative. That’s not even a relevant discussion though. Again, I was talking about underage students, not adults. I didn’t realize that making kids wait ’til they grow up to have access to drugs was a controversial viewpoint in libertarian circles, but this being Reason, I probably should have known better.

            1. Teenagers aren’t kids. They are biologically adults and have been treated as adults for all of human history up until the end of the 19th century.

              No one “should have masters”. If people are too stupid to function independently then they’ll never learn to function independently if you keep imposing control over them. And in libertopia who’s going to force other people who don’t agree to your scheme? There are already differing norms for alcohol. In many other countries you can serve people as young as 14 for example.

              1. Regardless of “biological adulthood” (whatever that actually means. Post-pubescent?), teenagers could at best be said to be on the cusp of adulthood in the sense the term is normally used in the modern context. Maybe it’s because we treat them like kids. Maybe it’s because of their education. Maybe it’s because of brain development, but they’re by and large idiots. Exceptions abound. But such legal distinctions are inherently arbitrary (what is “sound mind”? what is “reasonable”? what is an “adult”?)

                No one “should have masters”. If people are too stupid to function independently then they’ll never learn to function independently if you keep imposing control over them.

                Here again, underage kids. If you don’t think underage kids need parents (which are unquestionably a variety of “master”), you’re a fucking lunatic. I’m realizing I’m clearly in the minority here though. Like I said, I didn’t think delineating a particular age for “adulthood” in the legal sense and restricting access to certain things accordingly was all that terribly controversial for libertarians (I distinctly recall there being at least some support for statutory rape laws in previous threads). But yeah. Obviously I’m wrong. 13 year olds should be legally free of parental authority and have every right to toke up. And vote. And drive. Because they are “biologically adult” (nevermind that some of them will have a hard time reaching the pedals in a standard-sized car – they’re all growed up!)

                1. (cont’d)

                  And in libertopia who’s going to force other people who don’t agree to your scheme?

                  If you’re referring to the example I provided, no one needs to enforce it – it’s a stipulation of employment between an employer and his employee. The employer enforces it by terminating the employment of his employee.

                  If you mean, who would enforce a law defining adulthood for purposes like statutory rape, or voting, or military service, or restriction of access to drugs, presumably the courts would, just like any other law.

                2. I have a couple of thoughts to add to this column. Ya got me thinking man so it’s all good.

                  I agree that underage kids should not be smoking pot or drinking booze or fucking or basically ‘being adult’. Our home is probably scarily laid back to most and even I just don’t see the benefit to youngsters engaging in activities that require the processing of a mind that’s been around the block a few times.

                  However, some kids WILL smoke pot, drink booze, and fuck. You and I waxing and waning about what kids should NOT be doing can only truly affect our own kids and even then up to a point to when their little wings start a-flexing.

                  My position here has to now turn to other people’s children. In that case, when kids do things I disagree with outside of just purely criminal acts or self-destructive violence I tend to just let sleeping dogs lie. In my view the worst possible situation is getting law enforcement and the state involved in the lives of young people monkeying around with pot or booze in the basement. As I stated, unless they are becoming criminalized (and I’m not talking about graffiti or skipping school) or self-destructive (suicidal) I say let them be.


                  1. The idea that every action a kid takes that lies outside social norms will automatically lead to social depravity just makes little sense to me.

                    Final note: I tend to concur that kids are generally idiots in regards to how they interact within the adult life model. But, on another note I believe strongly that kids are more advanced than adults in the creative and conceptual sense and it is us adults that essentially fuck their heads up with a squarish and limited version of social reality. So in one sense kids are ignorant fucks but on the other hand they are quite brilliant and possess traits adults should retain but refuse to.

    2. but… but… just think of how much MORE you could have accomplished if you didn’t smoke the devil’s weed!


    3. I was hoping to see Bill have a “plumbing failure” last night….Krauthammer was much saner regarding the issue (wonders never cease).

  4. Can we stick with the photo of the blond chick while writing about this topic?

    1. Oh, sorry, you said blonde girl (somewhat NSFW).

      1. you’ll have to be more attentive if you’re going to be a professional panderer

  5. I’m all for legalization but, holy shit, when you get a bunch of potheads together…they are fucking annoying.

    I myself love the cannabis (but sadly have been off the stuff for a couple of years). But I can’t wait until we win legalization so that I don’t have to listen to the damn conspiracy theories and shit.

    1. I’m all for legalization but, holy shit, when you get a bunch of potheads together…they are fucking annoying.

      I feel the same way. I don’t care much for drunks for most of the same reasons. I’m also not a pot smoker, and the very smell of the residue is enough to give me a screaming fucking headache, so there’s that too. You had better be careful letting that slip around Reason though. Being 100% in favor of drug legalization means nothing if you aren’t also a daily toker who believes pot is an unequivocal benefit to the daily life of every human being on planet earth. One of the very funniest things about pot finally being legalized is going to be watching 95% of the “libertarians” disappear into the shadows and never make a fucking peep about drug control and/or prohibition ever again. 420 blz it faget!!one1!!eleventy!!

      1. Potheads, drunks, goths, bros, gays, gamers, punks, hipsters, libertarians, hunters, surfers, engineering students, sports fans, retirees, and so forth…

        1. I went to a concert a few months ago that was filthy with hipsters. It really almost made me reevaluate my taste in music. Nothing sucks more than being in passionate agreement about something with people you otherwise can’t stand.

    2. Any kind of group of people with similar interests, styles, backgrounds, and orientations is fucking annoying.

      1. Except libertarians

  6. You know, like, what I learned from the Hempfest was, well, uh, what was I talking about?

  7. I sincerely hope this event featured a rousing crowd sing- (maybe even dance-)along of Family Guy’s “A Bag of Weed” (sung to the tune of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s “Me Ol’ Bamboo.”) Best Family Guy musical production ever! (The bong solo alone is a tour de force and not to be missed!) Maybe up there with the greatest TV musical productions of all time.

    And yes, I’m too lazy to look up links or to use italics when called for on titles and/or foreign phrases: I don’t have Hulu regular or Plus, and as of today through Labor Day, I’m on vacation, bitches! Look it up yourself!

    1. And yes, I’m too lazy to look up links or to use italics when called for on titles and/or foreign phrases

      If you laid off the devil weed maybe you’d have a little more drive and ambition. /sarc

      1. Sadly enough, the only substance in which I’m indulging is a SECOND (**GASP!!**) cup of coffee, this one with REAL WHITE SUGAR instead of the generic Splenda. Even that’s not enough to motivate me. I must have really needed this vacation.

  8. It is too bad that Seattle police do not have a ‘laid back’ approach to other things such as schizophrenic homeless guys.

    1. They take more of a “lay back and take it” approach in those cases…

  9. like Charlotte explained I’m shocked that some people can profit $7696 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this webpage http://www.w?rk25.??m

  10. And when all these potheads get lung cancer and then demand free healthcare and welfare what does a libertarian do?

    1. Point and laugh?

    2. They’ve been doing that for decades so what’s the point? Keep it illegal and toss their hippy asses in prison where taxpayers will not only have to pay for their healthcare and welfare but also their iron maze and a union that keeps them safe in their cages?

  11. like Carl said I am amazed that any body can earn $8943 in 1 month on the internet. did you read this link….
    &my; friend’s mother makes $76 every hour on the laptop. She has been fired for 5 months but last month her income was $16329 just working on the laptop for a few hours.

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