Seattle HEMPFEST

The road to legalization is a twisted, rocky path littered with obstacles, speed bumps, and, of course, potholes. Back in 1991, when Seattle HEMPFEST® began, there were a lot of people who laughed at us. Those folks are not laughing today, although some of them are coughing.

While we have come a very long way on the path to true legalization, many of us in the Pacific Northwest cannabis reform movement don’t feel we’ve reached our destination just yet. As satisfying as it may be to walk into a recreational store and purchase a bag of weed, we cannot yet cultivate our own medicine, or necessarily find the strains patients need to treat the symptoms of their illnesses in the current retail market.

Our current DUI provision is not at all science based, but, rather, was driven by polling. As many as 250 pesticides are allowed in our current system, and there are restrictive laws preventing advertising equality, and federal laws preventing any cannabis business from banking or taking credit cards.

And as long as cannabis has a Schedule One designation in the Controlled Substances act, the federal government could take all of our advances away with the stroke of a pen and place us back at the starting gate.

But the message has been getting out. All across America, and the globe, people are discovering the truth about the herb. People are finding out they have been lied to all of their lives, and many of them are taking action in their communities.

You only need to go across the border into Idaho to be reminded how vicious and cruel — how absurd and totally wrong — prohibition is in every way.

Some people are still having their property stolen, losing their freedom, or even losing custody of their children over a couple of plants. Jail and prisons in many states are still overflowing with non-violent drug offenders, and the vast majority of them are in for cannabis offenses.

We have so many of our military personnel recently returned from military conflicts after serving bravely, suffering from traumatic brain injuries, terrible pain related conditions, and a shocking amount with post traumatic stress syndrome. Our brave veterans need to be able to choose cannabis as a treatment over the psyche drugs and opiates they are all being prescribed.

Here in Washington State, in Olympia, we have an organization called 22 Too Many, working hard to remind us that as many as 22 or more vets commit suicide each and every day. Patrick Seifert and his crew of volunteers are doing great work at the Olympia HEMPFEST Central location, advocating both for vets and for the herb.

And then there is Meagan Holt, the mother of sweet Maddie Holt, and her organization Project PC. Maddie was born blind and deaf, with health complications stemming from a rare terminal disease called Zellweger Syndrome. Meagan has been logging many hours in Olympia testifying before our state legislature advocating for children who need medical marijuana.

Or there is the struggle of Washington father John Barclay, fighting for his beautiful daughter, River, trying to gain access to River’s precious cannabis oil she needs to prevent her terrible seizure disorder while she attends school. Children who need pharmaceutical medications can have them applied to them at school, but John and his wife need to remove River from school halfway through her day just to administer her the cannabis oil that she needs to hold back her life threatening epilepsy. All they are asking is for some medical equality.

There is so much needless suffering of patients that could be readily addressed by the freedom to choose cannabis over the potentially deadly, cost prohibitive, and addictive pharmaceutical drugs that are currently being offered.

And the arrests just keep happening. Even here in Washington there were recently a rash of raids and arrests for cultivation. As awesome and as vital as the recreational stores are, there is still much work to be done.

And every recreational store, and cultivator, and processor is doing economic activism, risking everything in bold defiance of federal law. These people have made huge investments of time and money to forge an industry out of the ashes of prohibition while others are still being persecuted.

26 years ago we started the Seattle HEMPFEST on a small amphitheater in Seattle’s Volunteer Park because we were tired of seeing our culture be targeted and persecuted. The cannabis culture is one of the most peaceful, artistic, spiritual and creative subcultures anywhere.

The entire movement of legalize has gone off for decades with nary a shot fired or a major act of violence. We have gone up against the most well funded domestic propaganda campaign in history, against the most powerful government in the world, yet we are winning.

What other political movement has been able to flip state after state in defiance of federal law? And we are just getting started.

Every year at HEMPFEST we fill 1,000 staff shirts with 118 volunteer crews. What we have accomplished down on the waterfront, in 3 of Seattle’s most beautiful parks, is unprecedented. There simply is no other event in the world exactly like the Seattle HEMPFEST.

Over 1,000 bands have performed at HEMPFEST, and the same amount of speakers have graced its multiple stages over the decades that its message of freedom and personal responsibility has been raging.

Every year 400 arts, crafts, food, and informational vendors have presented their wares and message to the masses in an environment of freedom and tolerance that is unrivaled anywhere in the world. You’d be very hard pressed to find another event in an urban setting where you have the liberty to puff tough with your fellow Americans free from the threat of arrest.

And that freedom is very threatened as the changing economics of the fastest growing city in the United States threatens HEMPFEST’s extinction.

It takes over $800,000 to produce the largest, flagship event of the cannabis culture. HEMPFEST has remained a free, donation based event for 26 years, and raises the capital it takes to produce the world’s first protestival by selling vending spaces, sponsorship, memberships, web and program ads, raffles, and attendee contributions.

But the latter has been very lagging, as HEMPFEST averages about 46 cents per attendee for the entire weekend. In the last several months many other HEMPFEST type events have gone down for a lack of funding, including Olympia HEMPFEST, the Ontario Canada HEMPFEST, Portland’s Hempstalk. Even Seattle’s 40 year cultural music event, Folklife, had to put out an S.O.S for enough attendee donations to survive the changing dynamics.

It is arguable that, without Seattle HEMPFEST tilling the soil for reform all of these years Washington might not have been one of the first states in the nation to change the laws.

And now we have a presidential administration that is openly hostile to our culture, and which might threaten all the advances we have made. Our U.S. Atty General has asked Congress to allow him to go after medical marijuana. Is there anything harsher than targeting sick people who are seeking relief from the agony of their symptoms?

So we will continue working at Seattle HEMPFEST to provide a platform to those people who are still fighting against the madness of prohibition. We hear people ask us frequently, “HEMPFEST? Why even do that anymore? Isn’t pot legal?” Well, that is so frustrating that it makes our blood boil.

Prohibition is raging, and as I mentioned earlier, even here in our state we are severely dissatisfied with the limitations of the significant advances we have made.

But there is so much about the Seattle HEMPFEST that most people are not in any way aware of. Did you know that our volunteer Voter Registration crew has registered almost 10,000 Washingtonians to vote at our event? And we have held raffles to raise funds to place on the prison commissaries of inmates serving life in prison for cannabis “crimes,” to the tune of several thousands of dollars.

We pay about $14,000 annually to have Seattle Fire Department medics and an ambulance on site during HEMPFEST, to compliment our awesome internal volunteer First Aid crew. Those medics bring AEDs, (heart defibrillators) to the event in case someone has a heart attack, or heart failure. But because the event is 1.5 miles long and logistically challenging, we rent extra AEDs to have within the event so we can save a life if need be.

We contracted a University of Washington economics professor to do an economic impact study, which estimated that 48.9% of these patrons came from King County, 31.6% from elsewhere in Washington State, and 19.5% from out-of-state. Seattle HEMPFEST Festival patrons spent approximately $7.1 million in King County in relation to their visits to the 2014 festival.

It is estimated that Seattle HEMPFEST Festival in 2014 generated 234 jobs in King County, led to $18.145 million in output (sales of all industries), and generated $8.172 million in labor income. Labor income is the combination of direct earnings (wage and salary) plus estimated benefits/indirect labor expenses such as employee benefits). This model was used to estimate selected tax revenue impacts, which totaled $1.2 million.

And in this time of attack politics and personal demonization it might be more striking that from the early days of HEMPFEST we made a decision that we would attack only policies, not personalities. We have worked hard to use the power of our stages and sound systems to spread responsible messaging.

While we have pulled no punches on the sick, twisted, damaging policies related to prohibition, we are strived to do it carefully, without targeting individual politicians. We don’t have control over what every one of our thousands of guest speakers say on our stages. But our own people have been instructed to think twice about attacking people, because not only can good people make bad policy, people’s minds can change. You change the world one heart and one mind at a time.

Alienating, attacking, and insulting people because they have different ideas only drives them deeper into their beliefs. Making it personal guarantees they will probably never give your ideas a chance. We are very proud that we have tried to be good community leaders and seek to reduce superficial (or even significant) differences that separate us. You can accomplish so much on common ground. You can make advancements there.

But don’t misconstrue that to think we have not been fierce and ferocious in our condemnation of prohibition and the industrial prison complex system. We helped change the law in our state and beyond, in our own way. So many people have worked so hard in so many different ways.

And while we have made activism and community engagement fun and exciting for many, it has required hard work and sweat equity to a degree that nobody that is not directly involved could really comprehend how challenging it has been.

And the challenges just continue to come. Now Hempfest is working against some existential challenges.

On January 21, 1998, Ralph L. Seeley, an attorney from Tacoma, lost his battle with a cancer that he suffered from for over a decade. Seeley was diagnosed 12 years earlier with chordoma, a rare bone cancer located in the spine. Seeley went through a dozen surgeries and several bouts of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. He suffered severe nausea, vomiting, and debilitation. Smoking cannabis was the only thing that helped, and it worked much better than the pharmaceutical drugs that were the only things his physicians could prescribe.

Seeley sued the State of Washington, requesting that the state be legally compelled to reclassify cannabis as a substance that could be prescribed. After a Pierce County superior court judge ruled in his favor, Washington State appealed. In July of 1997, the Washington State Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower court. Less than six months later, Seeley was dead, but the cause he fought for is not.

In less than a year, Washington’s voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 692, which permitted qualifying patients to obtain prescriptions for “medical marijuana.” Fourteen years later, voters would approve another initiative, this time legalizing the recreational use of marijuana by adults. The good, the bad, and the ugly followed, but Ralph Seeley’s legacy cannot be taken away.

In 1998 we dedicated the second HEMPFEST stage to Ralph, making it the Seeley Memorial Stage, and his late wife Judith made the dedication that year, only to lose her life to cancer months later. After 19 years, and after many amazing moments of the Seeley Stage Crew, this year HEMPFEST has experienced a budget shortfall as the economics of our city and industry are changing.

We think we might not have the Seeley Stage this year. The family of volunteers who have made so much magic on that small parcel of land may lose what to them is something more precious than gold. It hurts so much to tell them they are going to lose their beautiful sacred stage, with the most awesome backstage area within the entire event. 19 years they have been a family.

If we can get even 1$, or better yet $5 or $10 per day, from every attendee for the one-of-a-kind experience that HEMPFEST offers we would be fine, and we could guarantee that our precious, beautiful Seeley Stage continues. We lost our awesome Starborne EDM stage last year. We can’t lose the Seeley Memorial Stage. The thought is so painful for us.

Whatever happens, we are not done and will not stop in our efforts to keep the memories alive and pay tribute to those who suffered and sacrificed to defend against the injustice of prohibition. We will never give up, give out, or give in on our quest to keep moving forward, and taking the speed bumps that come along in stride, and with all the dignity, honor, and resilience we can muster. It’s gotten so much harder but we will forge on for the patients, the prisoners, and the planet. We must see real legalization across the entire globe. That is the cause, and that is the purpose and goal of the amazing Seattle HEMPFEST. It always has been.

Join us! The freedom you gain just might be your own.

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