I Saw the Future of Pot at Seattle’s Hempfest

By Michelle Goodman


All photos by the author

It’s been a good year for pot lovers. The new recreational weed laws Washington and Colorado passed last November have taken effect. Illinois just became the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana. An industry eager to help users find and ingest their favorite strain grows larger and more legitimate by the day. And the federal government—which still outlaws producing, selling, and using pot—has yet to pull the plug.

So naturally, the vibe at the 22nd annual Hempfest—the massive pot pageant held in Seattle, Washington, this past weekend—was 100 percent celebratory. Sure, there were the usual activists calling for an end to federal prohibition. But the real business of the three-day weed-stravaganza was to make a leisurely victory lap to mark the state’s recent legalization of recreational ganja.

The scene at this so-called protestival, was fairly predictable, especially if you’ve spent time at freakier potcentric scenes like Phish or Grateful Dead concerts (events I’ve been to more times than I’d like to admit). Teens and seniors alike crowded Seattle’s downtown waterfront park to shop, dance, take in the sun, make a statement, people watch, and light up.


To answer your question, yes, there were bongs available for purchase.

Half a dozen stages featured an endless loop of reggae and cosmogroove (yes, that is a real genre). Speakers gushed excitedly about the beginning of the end of prohibition and the remaining work to be done. Vapes, pipes, bongs, grinders, memorabilia, and munchies spilled from hundreds of vendor booths. Pot leaves embellished stages, products, business cards, T-shirts, and port-a-potties. Even Ken Kesey’s legendary Further bus made an appearance. Everywhere I looked, someone was firing up a joint, pipe, or bong.

Washington’s new marijuana policy doesn’t allow imbibing in public, but Hempfest has traditionally been a safe haven for getting baked. This year, Seattle police not only turned a blind eye, they faced the sinsemilla head on. Department spokesman Sergeant Sean Whitcomb joined the event’s roster of speakers, and as you no doubt heard, cops distributed bags of Doritos to educate dope enthusiasts about the dos and don’ts of the new law. (“Don’t drive while high… Do listen to Dark Side of the Moon at a reasonable volume.”) Needless to say, Hempfesters were really freaking happy.


You're either on the bus or off the bus. If you're on the bus and you get left behind, you're still on the bus anyway, but if you're off the bus to begin with and get on the bus, shit, how does that go again?

“It’s amazing. It’s extraordinary,” Kyle Volcano, a professional glassblower from Eugene, Oregon, told me when I asked what he thought of the government’s newfound permissiveness toward herb. Volcano, who’s in his early 20s, has been working for hand-blown bong and pipe wholesaler Special K since he was 17. He’s never done any drugs, but the idea that others now can enjoy a smoke without breaking the law thrills him, as does the growing legitimacy of the paraphernalia industry he works in.

“Henry Hemp,” from Lodi, California, who’s been a staple at potfests for nearly a decade, was equally elated that the plant is getting its due. Hemp, who spoke to me while wearing a Styrofoam pot leaf on his head, told me that after his two-year-old daughter was born, Child Protective Services came to investigate mom and dad’s marijuana habit. Fortunately, CPS deemed Mr. and Mrs. Hemp fit parents and backed off. “I’m not some Peter Pothead,” Hemp said.


Henry Hemp and Lexie Lego, who both look like they could host an inappropriately weedcentric children's TV show.

Not everyone at Hempfest was singing the praises of I-502, Washington’s new recreational ganja law. I met Dale Rogers, a.k.a. Garth 420, while he and three other Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were vamping for a cop who wanted to snap their photo. Rogers has been running medical marijuana collectives in Seattle for 15 years and advocating for AIDS and cancer patients even longer. He’s concerned the state will try to tax medical pot just as it plans to do with recreational pot. “It’s not fair,” said Rogers, decked in black leather and KISS-style face paint. “Medical patients have a different need than recreational users.”


The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Nonprofit drug policy groups shared other concerns about the new law with me. One activist from Sensible Washington worried that the state’s proposed pot DUI testing method might be unfair to users who ingested marijuana days earlier but would be judged to be technically over the legal limit.

By and large though, optimism—and perhaps more notably, entrepreneurialism—reigned supreme. Among the vendors were software developers, concentrate makers, product testing labs, and a host of other new businesses hoping to cash in on Washington’s legal weed market. I had a nice chat with “Lexie Lego,” a model with booth-babe company 420Nurses, who came up from Los Angeles to help “Fredo,” a pipe vendor working his 15th potfest this summer. Two guys dressed as a blunt and a bag of weed brought along their publicist to hand out cards for their new medical marijuana delivery service; all three had just moved to Seattle from Miami.


Do you think these guys enjoy smoking weed?

At the high point—sorry, everyone!—of the afternoon, a plane pulling a banner ad for the website CaliforniaFinest420.com, which sells packs of pot cigarettes, blazed by. Even the woman who collected my signature for a petition related to background checks for gun buyers told me she wanted to open a pot dispensary.

As the sun began to drop and I made my way to the exit, the closing band of the day echoed this idealism. The singer congratulated the crowd on making Mary Jane legal and pondered the significance of it, for Washington and elsewhere. “Everybody’s feeling it,” he said. “They’re feeling it around the world.”

Apparently I was feeling it, too, because when I reached the cops gathered at the event exit, I asked the same thing all the other Hempfesters were asking: “Where’s our Doritos?” “No comment,” I was told. Time to go home. It wasn’t exactly the playful banter that marked the Seattle PD’s Twitter feed in the days leading up to the fest. I guess not everyone was feeling it.

I didn’t let their ill humor sour my mood. Instead, I found the friends I arrived with, headed home, and for the first time in more than a decade, smoked some dope. Hey man, it's legal now.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer in Seattle who’s written about pot-preneurs and enthusiasts for Entrepreneur, Seattle magazine, and The Magazine. On Twitter: @anti9to5guide

More on pot:

It's Good to Be the King

Marijuana Fed Pigs Are Happy Pigs

The Vet who Wants to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Dogs

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