Quick Hits from Hempfest
Tensions are higher than you’d expect at Washington State’s biggest pot festival.


Betsy Woodruff

‘Do you need any bud? I have some sour chocolate. It’s, like, an African strain. It’s black.”

It’s Saturday, August 17, Day Two of Hempfest, which bills itself as the world’s largest event advocating cannabis-law reform. I’ve just come out of the Westlake Bus Station in Seattle, and I’m heading out past Nordstrom’s gleaming corporate headquarters, and a tall, slightly gangly white guy sporting a Rastafarian-colored knit hat has pegged me as a Hempfester.

He’d spotted me in the bus station and asked if I was headed to the three-day festival celebrating all things cannabinoid. On the escalator up from the station, I told him I was a reporter from D.C., and I guess that made him think I’d want to smoke, like, African dope in front of the throbbing heart of one of the world’s top luxury department stores. It was about five minutes after I ditched him to go to McDonald’s that I realized how he’d figured out I was one of the upwards of 80,000 people going to the event billed as “The World’s Largest Protestival” that day: I was carrying the “CannabisNow magazine THE FUTURE OF CANNABIS IS HAPPENING NOW” canvas tote bag that I’d gotten the day before. Not very subtle.

Past Nordstrom, I walked down Pine Street to the tourist-luring Pike Place Market, where zaftig Midwesterners clog the sidewalk to get their pictures taken in front of the world’s first Starbucks before shopping for honey-lavender ice cream and artisanal kimchi. Ten minutes later: Hempfest.

Hempfest manages to embody a plethora of conflicts within the “cannabis freedom” movement and simultaneously provides it with some, uh, questionable PR. Since Washington State legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and older, Hempfest has become an odd confab of the civilly disobedient in search of something to disobey. It’s like the Hillsdale (Mich.) County Fair meets Woodstock meets Salvador Dalí. And it doesn’t smell so good.

It took about five minutes of Saturday morning for internecine tension to pop up. At the gate, the Seattle Police Department passed out bags of Nacho Cheese–flavored Doritos with stickers on them reading the following:


HEMPFESTERS! We thought you might be hungry. We also thought now might be a good time for a refresher on the do’s and don’ts of I-502 [the ballot initiative passed in November that legalized recreational marijuana use in the state].

DON’TS Don’t drive while high. Don’t give, sell, or shotgun weed to people under 21. Don’t use pot in public. You could be cited but we’d rather give you a warning. DO’S Do listen to Dark Side of the Moon at a reasonable volume. Do enjoy Hempfest.

Remember: respect your fellow voters and familiarize yourself with the rules of I-502 at [heart], SPD


These Dorito bags were far and away the hottest item at Hempfest. I had to beg a cop to give me one (“I’m media! Please!!”) because they were going so fast. I noticed more than a few covetous glares at the bright-red package poking out of my “CannabisNow magazine” bag. And no way did I eat them. I’m going to sell the bag on eBay. Or to the Smithsonian.

Anyway, not everyone was happy about the Seattle PD’s outreach efforts. One of the first booths in the festival (which covered a narrow, 1.5-mile-long park) was for Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a company that sells organic, eco-friendly, fair-trade, multi-purpose soap, as well as hemp T-shirts and some other stuff. A banner inside the booth had a picture of an old man (Dr. Bronner, I presumed) and the phrase, “‘We are all brothers and sisters and we should take care of each other and spaceship earth!’ ALL-ONE! Constructive capitalism is where you share the profit with workers and the earth from which you made it!”

Dr. Bronner’s vision of the rightful sharing of Spaceship Earth does not seem to involve Doritos. I feel comfortable reporting that because in the tent Adam Eidinger, a representative of the Magic Soaps, was making a public-service announcement via microphone into the crowd of attendees flowing past his booth about the danger of said police Doritos. “It’s really sad this isn’t a hemp chip!” he proclaimed. “This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Beware of the Doritos! They’ll make you obese! They’ll give you health problems!”

“Stoners are much smarter than the police give us credit for, alright?” he added. “We know a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, right here.”


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