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Hempfest seeks to alter minds, of the voting variety

Posted on August 19, 2000

Seattle, Washington — Seattle Hempfest is not your average summer festival. This ain’t the Warped Tour, End Fest or any other fun-in-the-sun event (although for the past eight years running, attendees have had plenty of both.)

Hempfest pushes for the decriminalization of marijuana and the processing of industrial hemp products without scrutiny from the Drug Enforcement Administration — a controversial agenda for what thousands consider summer entertainment. But really, it’s more of a demonstration meant to raise awareness — with lots of food and music. A crowd of 90,000 people showed up last year.

“What we’re looking for is for adults who use marijuana responsibly to not serve any penalty at all … that non-violent drug offenders be given an alternative to prison,” says Dominic Holden, director of the Hemp Coalition and a Hempfest organizer. The coalition also advocates the legalization of marijuana for medicinal uses.

To Holden, the same standards by which we judge responsible alcohol use also should define responsible marijuana use.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s website (www.usdoj.gov/dea/), “marijuana contains known toxins and cancer-causing chemicals.” But Holden says “marijuana is not a toxic drug — not in a way that it can destroy anyone’s life. As long as someone is not causing harm to themselves or others, there’s no reason that they should receive punishment for it.”

He hastens to add that neither he nor any of the Hempfest organizers advocates that attendees use drugs.

Hempfest organizers and supporters have a tough row to hoe.

Data compiled by Drug Sense, a group opposed to the marijuana-centric focus of the war on drugs, presents some thought-provoking numbers. Drug Sense cites a 1997 Department of Justice report and information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that about 60 percent of America’s federal prisoners are non-violent drug offenders, more than those doing time for rape, murder, robbery and aggravated assault combined — all costing the country $17.1 billion a year.

Anti-marijuana efforts also have put hemp sellers out of business or forced them to operate via mail order or on the Web.

“Actually, there’s a lot of demand for hemp products … the DEA has put seizures over a lot of things coming over the border, particularly the Canadian border, and it’s put a bit of a scare into the hemp community,” Holden says.

Hempfest executive director Vivian McPeak agrees.

“Basically, they require less than .03 percent THC (the mind-altering chemical found in marijuana) in industrial hemp products … it’s a very small, minute amount, but they’re seizing shipments of people’s hemp goods coming from China, Canada and a variety of places,” says McPeak, adding that hemp merchants aren’t charged, but their products are confiscated, and those losses can cripple small businesses.

The processing of hemp seeds has to be done in other countries because of U.S. restrictions.

Although hemp stores are still popping up here and there, shops in Belltown, Fremont, Capitol Hill and the University District have shut down over the past couple of years.

Hemp-seed goodies aren’t as easy to find as they were a couple of years ago, but stores catering to the health-food crowd, such as PCC stores, still carry hemp oil, which is consumed for its high content of essential fatty acids.

Seattle Hempfest

When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow
Where: Myrtle Edwards Park, Seattle
Admission: Free
Events: “Hemposium,” arts and crafts, political booths, speakers and bands (including Gruntruck, Zen Tricksters, Cannabis Cup Band)
Information: Call 206-781-5734 or check www.seattlehempfest.com

Also available are a variety of hemp lip balms, soaps, massage oils and skin-care products. Of course, you’ll find all kinds of hemp products at Hempfest.

It’s hard to tell if people are flocking to Hempfest because they care about the political issues behind hemp use or if they just want a good party. The truth probably includes a bit of both.

Copyright © 2000, Seattle Post-Intelligencer. All rights reserved.