As Seattle Hempfest enters its 30th year in existence the event and the organization is met with serious challenges, obstacles shared with thousands of other public events and millions of other businesses. In the last several years I have heard more than one time from someone suggesting that there is no reason for events like Hempfest to exist anymore, that there is no need, they serve no purpose, and that they are obsolete. So let me offer my rebuttal to such assertions.
One thing I hear from these folks is “cannabis is legal.” Naturally, my jaw clenches up immediately when I hear that statement. My standard reply is “take 10 steps across the Idaho border and light up a joint and see how legal cannabis is.” Now, Hempfest is a “protestival, which is a portmanteau indicating that it is a protest festival, which Seattle Hempfest really defined in my opinion. Hempfest is a political demonstration, but it is also a demonstration of what the cannabis culture is capable of, being a festament (I am into portmanteaus) of the professionalism and performance of those entrenched in the cannabis culture. With over 40,000 Americans still languishing in jails and prisons I gnash my teeth whenever anyone gives me this stuff about “cannabis is legal” just because they can cruise down to the local retail etsab and grab an eighth of weed like they are buying a Slurpee.
But let’s say cannabis HAS been fully federally decriminalized and the jails and prisons have been emptied of Americans deemed guilty of cannabis offenses, what then? Before I go there, I want to briefly outline some of the things that makes Seattle Hempfest categorically the only event of its kind on the entire world, reasons that I believe it should be preserved at all costs as a model for the global cannabis culture. This will make this a long post.
Seattle Hempfest is not just another dime a dozen pot concert where some cool bands have been paid for and a line of vendors registered. Seattle Hempfest is the most grass roots political event of its size and complexity on Earth, with an annual attendance in non-covid years hovering around 100,000, because it is almost entirely organized and staffed by volunteers. But its distinctions do not stop there.
Seattle Hempfest is a COMMUNITY VALUES EVENT. How is that? Let me list the ways:
We go to lengths to make Hempfest the safest and most socially responsible cannabis event of its kind EVER. It is not just sheer luck that in three decades of this gargantuan public event there has never been a serious accident, injury, or arrest at Hempfest. In addition to paying $20,000 for an ambulance and Seattle Fire Department medics on site during the event we have our own internal First Aid Crew comprised of people with medical training. How many other pot events have that? But we go further. The event is 1.3 miles long and narrow, and around 4 PM for some reason our attendance swells. It can be daunting to make it down the paths and through the crowds during peak attendance so we rent extra AEDs (heart defibrillators) and secure them at points in the event so we are not just relying on the Fire Department’s AEDs if someone has a heart attack and goes inti cardiac arrest. We also have 10 Stop The Bleed kits that we position at every stage and major Hempfest operational booth so we can address a serious blood loss injury.
Seattle Hempfest has its own Volunteer Voter Registration Crew that has registered over 10,000 Washingtonians to vote at Hempfest. We are a protestival that walks its talk around the block in terms of initiating social change.
Hempfest has two Toxic Spill Kits. You might think that is excessive but Hempfest is nestled in an environmentally sensitive location right on Elliott Bay, and we are stewards of those parks on the TEN DAYS we are on-site 24 hours per day. Show me another pot event that has these things.
Seattle Hempfest has a Lost and Found. Hempfest personnel spend several months attempting to return items that have been turned into our Lost and Found during our annual events. Many wallets, purses, cell phones and important pieces of identification are returned to original owners every year. We wish more people would have updated contact info on their valuables but we do the best we can.
Hempfest spends another twenty grand on licensed and bonded security guards who work the entrances of the event, a requirement of our original Seattle Special Event permit. But once you get inside the event is secured by our own internal Safety Patrol. The Seattle Hempfest Safety Patrol is an internal volunteer security force that secures and patrols within the perimeter of the Hempfest event. The HSP members undergo specific safety and de-escalation training and are schooled in the policies of Seattle Hempfest. The Safety Patrol coordinates with the Seattle Police and Port of Seattle Police in the course of the event, as well as Burlington Northern Railroad Police, and Amgen/Expedia and Seattle Art Museum security.
Seattle Hempfest’s Safety Patrol has enacted a Code Adam lost child protocol and training to respond effectively in the case of a missing child at the event. Several children have been safely identified and returned to their rightful parent(s).
The Seattle Hempfest has its own Ecology Crew, a volunteer-driven refuse management operation that works almost non-stop within the event to handle the large load of trash the event generates. All refuse is hand triaged. The Ecology Crew is complemented by a paid crew that comes up from Oregon to assist in the sorting for recycling, compost, or landfill. HEMPFEST routinely processes around 500 cubic yards of trash. On average, a cubic yard of loose waste (i.e., a self-haul load) will weigh between 250 and 350 pounds. HEMPFEST contracts with an outside agency to clean the surrounding areas outside of the event where attendee trash can sometimes be present.
Seattle Hempfest has been engaged in prisoner support, raises funds that are then transferred to the commissary accounts of Americans serving life in prison for nonviolent cannabis offenses. $2,000 was contributed in 2015 alone.
Seattle Hempfest has multi-page evacuation plans, and in the course of an emergency evacuation we have recorded announcements that are stored at our stages so that even the sound and stage staff can safely leave their posts to get to the three identified meet up points, depending upon where inside the event an emergency has been declared.
Hempfest has instituted a number of safety procedures for its multiple stages, including a ban on any objects being thrown from its stages, a ban on pets or babies on-stage (yes, you would be surprised), ear protection warning signs, and emergency stage clear directives. Specific stage clear rules have been developed to respond to severe weather incidents like lightning and windstorms. Drone use is restricted at Hempfest for public safety reasons.
Seattle Hempfest is a regional economic generator. In 2014 we worked with a University of Washington professor to develop an economic impact study that revealed that Seattle HEMPFEST festival patrons spent approximately $7.1 million in King County in relation to their visits to the festival. Volunteers and musicians were estimated to have spent $0.226 million in relation to their participation in the festival in King County, while Seattle HEMPFEST Festival exhibitors and food vendors are estimated to have had expenses of $1.8 in relation to participation in the festival in King County. In addition, Seattle HEMPFEST Festival organizers incurred costs of $0.924 million, of which $0.744 million were made in King County. In 2015 Hempfest ATM’s distributed $400,000 on-site.
Built to last, and operating since 1991, the Seattle HEMPFEST organization is the oldest continuous operating cannabis-related business or organization in Washington state.
There is more but I don’t dare go on. Most people will not even have read this far.
Now, remember, cannabis has been fully legalized and decriminalized. Why have a Hempfest? The cannabis culture and industry deserve their own cultural celebrations. Seattle Hempfest is likely the largest outdoor headshop in the world. It has a giant Hemposium Stage tent where educational panel discussions take place all three days featuring some of the most renowned speakers on the subject of cannabis, hemp, legality and reforms. It would be a shame for the cannabis community to lose this flagship event.
Please support Hempfest. We have been paying it forward for thirty years and our work is not yet done.
- Vivian McPeak, Seattle Hempfest