Hello and welcome to The Stranger's new pot column! If my name looks familiar, it's probably because between 1872 and 2015, I wrote the Stranger column Last Days, a weekly wrap-up of last week's news which was itself a sort of pot column, featuring so many stories of deadly weather and moms shot by toddlers, it was only humane to occasionally direct readers to the soul-restoring powers of a bong hit and Murder, She Wrote. More recently, I wrote a book, Weed: The User's Guide. Which is exactly what it sounds like and makes explicit a key fact behind my weed-related writing: I'm a user, having found in my late 20s that cannabis delivered a reliable fast track to what braver people call the Everyday Sacred or something but which I call the Now, and which I love.
But just because weed speeds me to a rich and generative present doesn't mean it'll do the same for you. Thanks to the intricate dance of cannabinoids (aka the chemicals that get you high), terpenes (the aromatic ghosts that influence cannabinoids), and individual brain chemistry, weed's effects land differently on everyone, and you'll likely know if they're friend or foe the minute they land. Does weed take your thoughts and feelings and attention span to a place you'd be happy to stay a while or somewhere you want to immediately flee? Trust your answer and never let anyone shame you out of or bully you into smoking weed ever again.
So, yeah, no proselytizing. I don't care if anyone smokes weed except me (and my husband, because weed makes all things kissing-and-beyond into singularly engrossing slow-motion opera). And no puns (rejected column names: Weed All About It, An Hempstory). And probably not much discussion of individual strains, because I haven't found much reason to care beyond the basic sativa/indica divide. (Convince me, strain freaks!)
What this column will be: a bimonthly dispatch from the weird new place we're in now—in history and culture—as the long-standing black market and the medical marijuana market are largely displaced by a recreational market, a move that’s bringing up all sorts of legislative and social-justice problems that pollute weed's pleasures. And it'll be written by someone who enjoys weed and may very well be high at the time of writing. Onward.
Hempfest! It's a word that floods love into the hearts of countless marijuana activists and pot aficionados (tie-dyed Phish-shirt division). Since its 1991 kickoff as the Washington Hemp Expo in Volunteer Park, Hempfest has grown into a nationally recognized destination event, where hundreds of thousands of weed-curious citizens gather for a three-day festival of weed-themed music, speeches, and tchotchke commerce, and law enforcement looks the other way as dense puffs of smoke sporadically fill the air. (It's the only event where cops have handed out Doritos.)
Anyway, Hempfest is a huge event that's helped make the tremendous progress we're now seeing in Washington's weed laws, and every year it seems to get bigger. So when I received an e-mail with the subject line "Seattle Hempfest in Trouble," with the text directing readers to a GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/keephempfestalive), I was intrigued. "Now in its 25th year, due to lack of donations from the community and attendees, the event's existence is threatened," it read. Bracing proof of Seattle's ambivalence: In one month, the campaign had raised $925 toward its $150,000 goal.
I talked to James Zachodni at Dope, the cannabis lifestyle magazine that's partnered with Hempfest to help navigate the current situation. This crisis, Zachodni says, was largely instigated by the powerful downpour that shut down the first day of Hempfest 2015, costing the festival (which relies on sales of food and goods to cover production costs) nearly $200,000 in lost income. "For an event that's always living right on the margin, you can see how that would be very problematic," says Zachodni, who confirms that this year's festival is going ahead. "They're at the point that if they don't make X amount of money [this year], they wouldn't be able to do it again."
A quick glance at Hempfest's 2016 platform reveals a wealth of righteous, support-worthy aims, from amnesty for nonviolent cannabis offenders to consumption protections for medical marijuana patients in public housing. But is a million-dollar, all-volunteer festival the best showcase for Hempfest's political platform, or might they transition to an online activist PAC that can't be ruined by rain?
For Hempfest, the communal public gathering remains key. "We've all been to Hempfest, and we all know a lot of people who go aren't there to learn about policy," says Zachodni. "But there are some people there who really do care. [You can] meet growers, learn so much about cannabis medically and recreationally, learn about all the different benefits of terpenes and CBDs, there's so much more information right in front of you if you really want to delve."
Hempfest happens August 19 to 21 in three waterfront parks and is free (but if you set foot in that fest without dropping at least $5 in a donation bucket, you suck).
Got a weed question? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.