Seattle’s very own “protestival” is back — without much to protest.
Hempfest 2014 has the usual tie-dye T-shirt-wearing, dread-headed, high-minded attendees, but with marijuana now legal in Washington state, the tone of the 23-year-old festival has shifted from dissent to celebration.
Still, the festival’s guide urges activists to “soldier on in the struggle for full legalization.”
“This is the one plant that can revolutionize the world,” said Seattle resident Jacob Junkman, who spends much of his time volunteering at medical dispensaries and was wearing a T-shirt that read “Marijuana is safer than alcohol.”
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Similar to beer gardens at other public festivals, this year’s Hempfest hosts two areas that allow consumers of legal age to light up (away from underage attendees including babies in strollers).
But the festival’s official efforts to follow the law didn’t stop attendees from smoking as they strolled from booth to booth, examining the glass, vapes and other hemp-related products for sale. Other vendors are local companies like Kush Tourism, which offers “rent-a-vape” services for $10 an hour.
While many locals were marked by their Seahawks gear, a contingent of the festivalgoers came from out of town. Dezon Dalberg, owner of a dispensary in Bend, Ore., trekked up to Hempfest from CannaCon, the marijuana industry’s first convention that is also taking place this weekend in Tacoma.
“We’re at the beginning of an industry, even though it’s been around forever,” said Dalberg, who is in the process of opening three more dispensaries in Oregon.
Half-brothers Kyle Mehr and Jory Nielson were hitchhiking through California when they heard about Hempfest; Seattle summarily became their next destination.
“We’re part of the biggest revolution America’s ever seen — marijuana,” said Mehr, 20.
But he had doubts about legalization and the efficacy of recreational outlets compared to the black market, a sentiment echoed by many. The festival’s celebratory vibe was tinged with disdain for how the state has handled legalization.
“I wanted to see if it’s changed since it’s legal,” said Sarah Moran, a medical patient from Seattle. “They’re trying to tax too much for something that’s already on the black market. I won’t legally pay for it. I’ll go to the dispensaries or grow my own.”