Seattle Hempfest 2009: A Vision of the Future

The year is 2020, eleven years after marijuana was first legalized, regulated and taxed in the United States.

Arrests of non-violent cannabis users have ceased, and billions of dollars previously spent on law enforcement and imprisonment have been generated. Hemp has once again become a staple of American industry, allowing the USA to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels through hemp biomass, significantly decreasing the number of old growth trees cut down for paper production, and helped to bring the planet back from the brink of environmental disaster. Research into cannabis’ many medical benefits has helped millions find relief from debilitating illnesses and saved countless lives. The taxation of marijuana has led to a full reversal in the American economy, bringing the country out of a deep recession and into a boom.

This was the hopeful picture of tomorrow painted by the organizers, speakers, performers, and vendors of Seattle Hempfest 2009.

“What we are looking at is Hempfest in the future,” coordinator Richard Glynn told Cannabis Culture at this years event. “Here’s what life is like with eleven years of legalized marijuana: everything from biomass to spiritual uses to simply more room in the jails for the bad guys instead of peaceful marijuana users.”

Seattle Hempfest was started by a group of peace-turned-hemp activists in 1991 and has grown to include over 300,000 attendees a year, making it the largest gathering of marijuana advocates in the world. The event stretches more than a mile along Seattle’s downtown waterfront coastline at Myrtle Edwards Park for two days each summer.

On August 15 and 16, 2009, four main stages hosted activist speakers, stand-up comedians, and musical acts of all shapes, sizes and sounds. Endless vendor’s booths offered clothing, food, books, bongs and pipes, and all the newest and oldest weedy inventions and pot paraphernalia. People young and old began to fill the park grounds shortly after 10am, and by 3pm, on both Saturday and Sunday, Hempfest was completely packed.

“One of the reasons the ‘Year 2020’ theme was chosen is because there seems to be much more optimism this year,” Glynn said. “We now have a new president whose first order of business was to stop the DEA from raiding medical marijuana co-ops. We’ve got Oregon legalizing hemp production. We’ve got Barney Frank and his bill. We’ve got California where Arnold Schwarzenegger says ‘everything is on the table’. It’s very exciting. ‘Hempfest 2020’ is the optimism that things are going to get better.”

Despite its size, Hempfest 2009 was a remarkably relaxed and peaceful get-together with very few tribulations. In fact, over the entire weekend, this reporter saw no heated arguments, fistfights, or even an unhappy face in the crowd. Speakers on stage often remarked upon the laid-back and benevolent tone of the event.

“So many things could go wrong at a thing like this,” Hempfest Director Vivian McPeak told the crowd from the main stage, “but the reason it works is because you guys understand it – you get it. We have a great crowd. It’s a community, a family reunion. Everybody’s welcome at Hempfest. It’s a hate-free zone.” [Watch video of Vivian McPeak at Seattle Hempfest 2009 giving props to Pot-TV].

Though there were several teams of Seattle Police officers in attendance patrolling the crowd and occasionally making people put out their joints, no arrests were reported.

“I like that everyone is just so friendly,” a Washington pot-smoker named Joe told CC when asked about his reasons for coming to the event. “There’s no tragedy or drama. It’s just chill all day long. And if you respect the cops and don’t smoke right in their faces, they will respect you back.”

Although many came for the relaxed social environment, many came for the shopping as well. Vendors hawking everything from hemp ice cream to marijuana growing enclosures walked through the crowd and set up hundreds of stationary booths.

“Every year it just gets better and better,” glass artist Special K told CC from behind a large table loaded with beautiful, hand-crafted bongs. “I started as a strolling blanket vendor for two or three years selling hand pipes and moved my way up. This year I brought $30,000 worth of retail glass and I’m going to sell it all.”

Hempfest 2009 was also a showcase of diverse musical talents including a colorful spectrum of genres. From Hip-Hop to Hard Rock to Jazz to Electronica, there was a little something for everybody. Even pornstar Ron Jeremy showed up on Sunday to play harmonica at 4:20 and introduce Hempfest’s house band, The Herbivores [Click here to see Ron Jeremy introduce The Herbivores].

Fun and games aside, a very large part of Seattle Hempfest is about activism and the fight to repeal cannabis prohibition. Organizers roamed through the crowd registering people to vote while the Hemposium stage featured panels of activists showing exhibits, displays, and demonstrations on issues that included industrial hemp, medical marijuana, and taxation and regulation.

This years Hempfest boasted an amazing lineup of speakers – virtually Everyone Who’s Anyone in the marijuana community was on stage at least once over the weekend. Cannabis Culture reporters were there with a digital video recorder and captured many of the rousing speeches by lawyers, scientists, doctors, and life-long pot activists. Click the links in the quotes below to watch the videos.

NORML Director Allen St. Pierre: “We are on the cusp of such major change – you all know it – we’ve been coming here for years and saying it and it’s been true. If you charted it, it would be a huge increase in support for marijuana law reform. In fact, according to Nate Silver, statistician, in 2019 to 2020 60% of Americans will support the legalization of marijuana. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican – we’re going to legalize marijuana no matter what happens in 10 years, because when 60% of the American public wants something, they’re going to get it.” [Click for video]

THC Foundation’s Paul Stanford: “Medical marijuana is a great step forward, but it is not the end. What we need to do is end adult marijuana prohibition, restore industrial hemp, and help medical marijuana patients. And the best way to do that is legalize marijuana. [Click for video]

Former Washington State Senator George Rohrbacher: “In January we crossed another interesting milestone. The Michael Phelps bong hit heard round the world. Why did that ring the bell on the Internet? Why did it get so much coverage? Why? Because the US Government spent 30 or 40 years building a paradigm that says ‘if you smoke a joint you will become a loser, you will become a couch potato, you will become worthless’. Well guess what? Michael Phelps? Couch Potato? I think not!” [Click for video]

Dr. Robert Melamede: “The bottom line is, cannabis is an anti-aging drug and it’s good for you. And all this nonsense about whether we should have a right to use it or not – can you imagine that we’ve got a government that’s so insane that they’ve taken a plant that’s an anti aging drug, that inhibits cancers, that inhibits arthritis and Crohn’s Disease and a million autoimmune diseases, Arteriosclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease – all of these things are inhibited by more cannabis activity. [Click for video]

Cannabis Action Network and Berkeley Patients Group founder Debby Goldsberry: “In 1979 the voters of Berkley made cannabis legal. They passed an initiative that said the police shall spend no money on cannabis. It was the founding initiative that Seattle passed here so many years later; the reason we can gather here so peacefully.” [Click for video]

NORML’s Madeline Martinez: “I’m asking you today, please, put the joint down and step away from the bong just for a few minutes. Not forever! Hell no, we gotta smoke. I smoke pot and I like it a lot. And you should be smoking pot and you should be loving it. Let’s make sure that we can end this war on Americans. 849,721 Americans arrested, 89% of those for simple possession. I don’t know what you think, but I’m tired of it.” [Click for video]

NORML’s Russ Belville: “Look around you. Look at all these people, peacefully gathered together to celebrate their First Amendment freedoms. We need to realize that we don’t have to hide in the closet anymore. We have a ton of political power.” [Click for video]

Hemp expert Andrea Hermann: The Government of Canada recognizes hemp as an agricultural crop and thus gave the opportunity for producers to exploit it and use it in a controlled fashion. Thus they changed the law. They admitted the law to facilitate the cultivation and incorporation of an industrial hemp industry that now is growing at over a rate of 20% a year. [Click for video]

Canadian Green Party Candidate Jodie Emery: “It doesn’t take much: write a letter, call a radio station, run for office. I’m running in the Canadian Federal Election as a Green Party Candidate because the Green Party believes in ending prohibition. Prohibition is an expensive failure and the recession here, our economic troubles, will end once we end this war on drugs. [Click for video]

Ganga Guru Ed Rosenthal: There was a time that some of us remember when you could put all of the marijuana activists in the whole country in a large room, and we all knew each other. It was maybe 100 or 200 people who were active. From that has blossomed this beautiful thing, which is the march toward legalization. It’s great that medical users can get their marijuana. And it’s great that a certain number of people aren’t harassed anymore. But now I’m speaking for everyone: we need free legal marijuana. [Click for video]

The Hemperor Jack Herer: Thirty-Seven years ago, I knew the government was lying to me when I discovered a new word that I didn’t know in public school, high school or college – and that was “hemp”. Hemp. I thought I was a history buff, I was a history major – and all that time, I had never heard about hemp. Hemp will be the future of all mankind, or there won’t be a future. [Click for video]

Click here for the complete Hempfest 2009 Photo Gallery

Click here to go to the Seattle Hempfest website.

Photos and videos by Carina Gonzalez and Jeremiah Vandermeer

Click here for the complete Hempfest 2009 Photo Gallery