Once summer begins to draw to a close, Seattle dispensaries start gearing up for one of the biggest events on the calendar…
October means many different things to many different people.
Beer drinkers have Oktoberfest.
Coffee drinkers have Spiced Pumpkin Lattes.
And weed smokers have Seattle Hempfest.
Seattle Hempfest is a day that cannabis smokers from across the state and the entire country come together to celebrate all things ganja. It’s the world's largest annual gathering of cannabis activists and it draws in support from all corners of the cannabis world.
It’s an occasion where the entire cannabis culture can raise its voice as one, and let it be known that the fight for the acceptance of cannabis still has many battles to win.
It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge how far we’ve come, celebrate the victories, and look to the future as to what’s next for cannabis legislation, business, and the culture at large.
But what exactly is Hempfest?
What is Hempfest about?
First and foremost Hempfest is about our basic rights as human beings – equality and freedom. Hempfest organisers believe passionately that adults have the right to make their own decisions about what they choose to put in their own bodies.
Rather than being lectured by a government with its own agendas and biases, they believe that health choices should be made based on facts and the latest scientific understanding and information.
Currently there are tens of thousands of people incarcerated in America’s prison system on charged with the use and possession of cannabis. Hempfest is dedicated to fighting for fair and just cannabis laws, and freedom for those unfairly imprisoned. Hempfest is a political and human rights protest foremost, and a celebration of cannabis and hemp second.
What is Hempfest trying to achieve?
Seattle Hempfest believes strongly in the decriminalization of marijuana for all responsible adults, as well as ease of access to medical marijuana and legal domestic hemp production.
By creating one of the world's largest gatherings of cannabis enthusiasts, Hempfest continues to demonstrate that cannabis users are responsible, professional, ordinary citizens who come from all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds.
Not only this, but Hempfest brings together leading minds from cannabis activism, business, industry, research, and policy reform. The result is an educating and informative environment that welcomes those from outside of the cannabis world and attempts to inspire informed debate and positive change at a local and national level.
Seattle Dispensaries and HempFest – the History
There’s no doubt we’re living in a golden era of cannabis. Nowadays you can pop into any local dispensary, choose from a menu of world-class flower, hash, and concentrate. You can choose from high-strength edibles, topicals, or medicinal CBD. There has never been so much choice at our fingertips.
But it hasn't always been like this. It is only in the last couple of decades that the fight for acceptance reached the national stage and individual states began to change their laws around cannabis.
And these changes did not happen on their own. Many politicians are quick to take credit for opening the doors of acceptance and allowing a new billion-dollar industry to blossom. But the truth is the blood, sweat, and tears of the legalization movement were spilled by ordinary citizens who gathered in the masses to protest, lobbied their elected representatives, and dared to defy state and federal lawmakers.
Cast your mind back to the nineties, before the wave of decriminalization swept across the country. Jack Herer and other cannabis activists were taking the fight to the highest level and galvanizing the pro-cannabis movement across the country.
It wasn’t just the ideas of a few hippy stoners, there were serious political and industry names getting involved in the fight. It was clear that people were coming together, organizing themselves, and beginning to make their voices heard.
In Washington state, there was already a well-established cannabis movement. In 1979, a court ruled in favor of a multiple sclerosis patient who was found with cannabis at his property. This landmark ruling opened the door for the possession and use of medical marijuana in the state.
And in 1995, a medicinal cannabis co-operative in Bainbridge Island became the first of its kind to be raided by law enforcement. The co-op was growing and supplying cannabis for little or no cost to patients suffering from AIDs, cancer, and MS.
As it happens, one of the patients who was being supplied by the co-op was an attorney previously diagnosed with bone cancer. The patient turned cannabis activist Ralph Seeley, went on to sue the state of Washington for restricting his access to medication. The following rulings, counter rulings, and initiatives were the building blocks to the decriminalized status that Washington state now enjoys
The early days of Hempfest
While the legal battle was going back and forth through courtrooms and state legislative buildings, the movement on the street was also gathering momentum.
In 1991, a humble group of stoners gathered in Volunteer Park, Seattle, at what was then called the Washington Hemp Expo. 500 people and 20 members of staff turned out for the very first HempFest outing.
In its second year, supported by various bands from Seattle's budding grunge scene, and with Jack Herer himself delivering the keynote speech, the event drew in 2000 people. The next year 5,000 turned up, and it was clear that HempFest and public awareness of the fight against unfair cannabis laws were both growing.
Over the next few years, Seattle Hempfest continued to draw larger and larger crowds. Mosh-pits, thousands of weed-smoking attendants, and traffic carnage across the whole city saw organizers and the city authorities clash, and the future of the festival looked to be in jeopardy.
What started as a small park gathering now needed licensed and approved security, million-dollar insurance, emergency escape plans, and city approval. It was clear this was more than just college kids needing an excuse to party.
Hempfest became an example to the whole-word that cannabis activists could turn out in their thousands to peacefully protest and push forward public understanding of the cannabis plant.
Nowadays Hempfest is one of the first dates marked on any Seattlites calendar. After over 20 years of organizing the “protestival” on a shoestring, the organizers officially moved into their first dedicated building, securing the future of Hempfest for years to come. Locally grown – internationally known.
Hempfest during covid
The FIFA World Cup, the Olympic games, and Seattle Hempfest all suffered a similar fate at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020 all of these world-famous events were canceled, rescheduled, or reorganized.
Hempfest moved online, with multiple streams of the performers, speakers, and panels that would have been at the live event.
For 2021, Hempfest was canceled completely. The organizers abandoned their plans for a second online event in favor of concentrating their efforts on preparing for 2022’s comeback event.
The plans haven’t been laid just yet, but keep your ear to the ground. You cannot keep Seattle Hempfest down for long!
Other cannabis events you might have missed…
The High Times Cannabis Cup
If you came up as a weed-smoking youth in the days before legalization, the Cannabis Cup was something of a myth.
The idea that you could go to a location, test out the world's best weed, and vote for the best crop of that year seemed like a complete fantasy.
Yet, such a competition does exist and has done since its inaugural competition in 1988. Top experts from the industry come together to judge the top strains from elite breeders, and awards are given to the top three strains in a variety of categories.
The Cannabis Cup has evolved from an underground local tournament in Amsterdam coffee shops and first came to American for competitions that focused solely on the early days of medicinal weed. It has since grown into a huge multi-city, international competition.
Nowadays people's choice awards are held in locations across North America, and for a fee you can register to judge and be given a batch of samples to peruse!
Annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash, Michigan
Originally held every April 1st, the Ann Arbor Hash Bash now kicks off on the first Saturday of April.
With the goal of reforming state and federal cannabis laws, the bash takes part at the University of Michigan and features speeches, live music, and occasional civil disobedience.
On March 9th, 1972, Michigan Supreme Court declared the law used to convict activist John Sinclair for the possession of two joints as unconstitutional.
As a result of this action, the state of Michigan was left without a specific law prohibiting the use of marijuana until after April 1st. Seizing the opportunity, local weed activists and enthusiasts came together and so the Hash Bash was born.
Drawing in crowds between five and ten thousand, the Hash Bash crystalized the weed activism movement in the state. In 2019, cannabis was decriminalized, but the bash still pushes on.
The Emerald Cup (Northern California)
A celebration of the cannabis farmers, cultivators, and harvesters, the Emerald Cup carries on 18 years of NorCal tradition. The event is at its core a harvest celebration and a time to give thanks for the bountiful crop provided by mother earth, and an opportunity to compare, peruse, and purchase some of Cali’s finest.
Entrants can enter their finest strains into the Emerald Cup Awards. Hundreds of products are pitted against each other in more than 40 different categories including flower, concentrates, and hash. It’s a time where new cultivators are broken into the industry and experienced growers face off against their rivals to see who’s produced the best crop of the season.
National Cannabis Festival (Washington D.C.)
Taking place just a short walk from the US capitol building, the National Cannabis Festival was designed to take the message of freedom and the failure of the war on drugs directly to the seat of federal power.
The festival is a celebration of all those who have given time and energy to the fight against prohibition and a chance to bring to light those who have had their lives ruined by draconian drug policies.
It’s still early days for the NCF, starting only in 2016, but the message has been heard loud and clear. Pulling in representatives from 30 states at its inaugural event, the festival has quickly grown to be one of the biggest events on the cannabis calendar.
Attendees at the opening event enjoyed a full concert headlined by hip-hop legends De La Soul, remarks from members of congress, education sessions, yoga, games, contests, food, and drinks.
Hanfparade, Berlin, Germany
It’s not just us Americans who have had to fight our governments for the right to grow and consume one of God's own creations. Across the water in Europe, most countries are still ruled by drug laws that class cannabis as an illicit substance.
Hanfparade translates as “Hemp parade”, and that’s exactly what the day consists of. The parade brings together advocates from across Germany, sometimes pulling crowds of over 10,000 people. Floats, dancers, moving sound systems, and of course, weed-smokers parade through the capital, before congregating in the center for more dance, music, speeches, and weed-smoking
Even with so many people openly flouting the law, the parade is almost completely peaceful, with the police turning a blind eye to the cannabis consumption taking place.
The parade hosts national and international music acts, German celebrities and politicians who back the decriminalization movement, many food and drink stalls, and hemp products for sale.
So there you have it! The Seattle Hempfest will be back bigger and bolder for 2022. If you’ve never been, it’s an atmosphere of peace, love, and unity that is hard to find at other events. The notice board in the dispensary near me is full of fliers from April to Oct – don’t miss out!