A Few Words About Hempfest
(Which Takes Place All Weekend Long at Myrtle Edwards Park)
Dean Forbes / Stranger Flickr
We like pot. Hell, we love it. This entire package of stories is about how pot can make your life better. As everyone knows, marijuana's illegality is a backward war on otherwise-good people. We waste billions of dollars of resources annually to do—what, exactly? It's not keeping pot out of people's hands, because marijuana is everywhere: There's a fucking marijuana festival on the waterfront. And Seattle has been leading the charge to turn around the drug war (a few years ago, voters made possession law enforcement's lowest priority; a few days ago, the Seattle Police Department rolled out a program to give dealers treatment instead of arresting them).
But Hempfest, which pioneered the movement in these parts, is regressive and archaic. Tie-dyes hang from the stages, and reggae-rock fusion blares from the amplifiers. There's nothing advantageous about sticking a pressing political issue in a countercultural time warp, and there's nothing attractive about a rally that looks more interested in satisfying its own indulgences than effectively advocating for political reform. As it is now, Hempfest drives away unknown numbers of would-be supporters—politically engaged city folk. Here's what Hempfest can do to avoid squandering its potential.
Lose the cultural baggage: Hippies are the stigma of the pot movement. There's nothing wrong with hippies, mind you, and Hempfest itself is wonderful. (I was a director and permit holder for many years, fighting from the inside for Hempfest to ditch the hippie accessories.) But countercultural celebrations and drug-legalization advocacy are mutually undermining ambitions. In truth, the crowd at Hempfest is mostly mainstream folks, freakishly hot guys without shirts, and perky little emo kids. But clichéd hippie artifacts and music—chosen by the organizers—make people who don't identify with a tiny cultural niche want to run screaming.
Bring names people recognize: Get as many members of the city council and county council onstage as possible. Bring in two big headlining acts that reflect the sort of crowd you want to bring (Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend, Stevie Wonder). This is a mainstream issue, right?
Fuck with people: Run radio ads with a voice impersonator who claims to be Bill O'Reilly. Say Hempfest is sponsored by Fox News and try to get a cease-and-desist order—and when that happens, ride a wave of publicity.
Give the smart people something to do: Host a forum at Benaroya Hall with Jim McDermott, Jennifer Aniston, Rick Steves, Stephen King, and other unlikely advocates for legal marijuana. Spice it up by making it a debate—challenge the drug czar to show up.
Choose themes that make sense: Last year, Hempfest's theme was "Industrial Hemp." That's like gay pride picking an annual theme of "Gay." This year, Hempfest's poster indicates the theme "20/20 Vision: A Hempen Future." Does Hempfest need contacts? Is Barbara Walters hosting it? Americans have been debating legal pot for over 45 years; great themes help people connect with a debate that's gone stale. Choose a theme like "Pot Makes Sex Better." Maybe it's true, maybe it's not. Bring Jenna Jameson and Annie Sprinkle and Hugh Hefner to talk about it.
Get a thicker skin: You guys are playing in the coliseum of politics—it's bloody in there. When someone suggests how to improve your game, someone who agrees in principle but argues strategy, don't lose your fucking minds.