Last weekend, when Hempfest planted its green butt on the downtown Seattle waterfront, lots of folks asked: Does Hempfest matter anymore? Now that Washington State has legalized marijuana and the cops are giving out Doritos, even stoners wondered, what's the point of a gigantic rally that, at least purportedly, is about legalizing pot?
I went to Hempfest. I didn't smoke any pot. So what was it that made me think Hempfest is more important than ever?
A few times a week, I pass a faded mural in the International District that reads "Another world is possible—drug-free." It's a throwback to an addictive idea from the 1980s and '90s that this could be a "Drug-Free America." But a drug-free nation—let alone a drug-free world—is objectively impossible.
Still, the underlying message of our recent landmark drug-policy reforms has been based on the idea that all illegal drug use is a scourge that can and should be mitigated. Take the pot-legalization initiative that voters passed last fall. It was a historic accomplishment, but its messaging was based on cutting off money to cartels and regulating the pot market to reduce its harm. I don't begrudge the sponsors for this tack; most voters, who don't smoke pot, want laws that benefit themselves, not stoners.
But there's a thorny truth that politics doesn't embrace: Pot is fun.
Smoking pot before the movies can be enthralling. Passing around a pipe before dessert can be delightful. Listening to a great DJ by the sunny shores of Elliott Bay while you smoke a joint is positively joyous.
Which is to say, Hempfest is fun.
It's a brazen admission that pot smoking is not a sickness that needs to be cured.
Now, I can imagine snarky people saying that Hempfest isn't fun (for them), or saying some Hempfest stoners are idiotic caricatures.
Oh, I'm sorry, do stoners present a bad image?
We've heard this one before: Gay pride parades send flotillas of gyrating leather daddies down Main Streets across America. People say that's also a bad image. People say it looks like gay culture is obsessed with sex and indulgence. People say that the issue of gay rights is actually more sophisticated, that the serious gay agenda is about palatable stuff like building families and reducing youth suicide rates. That's certainly true. And they're right that Mr. Leather 2013 may turn off some folks (especially the folks who have always been dead set on dismissing gay people), but gay pride hasn't been a setback for gay rights. Many of the cities with the biggest drag-queen-festooned pride parades are in the same states at the vanguard of passing gay marriage, enacting trans protections, and penalizing LGBT bullying. Now that marriage equality has passed in those states, should the gay pride parades stop? Fuck no.
They're fun. They represent lots of gay Americans.
Some people may not like the gay pride analogy, but as a cocksucking stoner, I'm sticking with it. But noooo, the haters say: Being gay is who you are, and smoking pot is a choice.
I agree, kinda.
The problem is, many adults use drugs in moderation (alcohol and pot are the most popular). They are never going away, because using them is literally human nature. We tried a drug-free America and alcohol prohibition, and they failed as miserably as gay-conversion therapy. While some people have problems with drug addiction, for others, pot and alcohol are fine.
And let's be honest: I didn't do shots last Thursday because I wanted to savor the delicious flavor of tequila. And I didn't have sex on Friday to build a family. I did those things because they're fun.
So should Seattle, with the largest pot festival on the planet, which is in a state at the vanguard of legalizing pot, stop having fun with its Hempfest? No way.
Pot may be legal in Washington State, but nationally, Americans are busted for pot at a rate of nearly three-quarters of a million people a year. Lots of people can't get jobs or scholarships or apartments because they have a pot misdemeanor on their record. Just as gay pride tells gay folks that there's hope, Hempfest is a beacon that there's an end to America's backward, racist, puritanical drug war crusade.
And now that the pressure is off Hempfest to be an agent for legal change, it's easier to appreciate the wonderful, freaky bonanza that it is.
We've been having dishonest conversations for decades—you'll get hooked on all drugs after one toke—and that leads to misinformation, abuse, and distrust. Once we can admit that pot is fun, we can talk credibly about when it's not fun. When it really is dangerous (before driving). When you shouldn't use pot (before school). Just like we can't talk about safe sex unless we can admit, openly, that sex is common and pleasurable, we can't have a sensible conversation about pot in this country without acknowledging pot can be pleasurable, too. And Hempfest won't let us forget it.