By Alice Blunt
As winter days start melting away and the sun starts shining with more warmth and regularity, it can mean only one thing: festival season is right around the corner. You may be thinking of attending your first Hempfest. What can you expect at Hempfest, and what can you do to stay safe and on the right side of the law but still have a killer time? Here’s our guide to getting the most out of your first, or tenth, Hempfest experience.
What is Hempfest?
It’s not a stupid question: is Hempfest a political rally, a music festival, an outdoor market to buy cannabis-related merchandise or a place to acquire some delicious munchies from food trucks? The answer: it’s often all of the above. Hempfest started as organized gatherings of pro-marijuana advocates and the events usually feature booths offering information about how to get involved with efforts to legalize marijuana, either locally or nationwide, or information about cannabis issues in general. Expect to see one or four or thirty people gathering signatures for a petition or two. Often, there will be speakers, some of national noteworthiness, doing their best to inspire the crowd to rally for the cause. Most Hempfest gatherings also host live music and perhaps even a belly or fire dancer or two to keep the entertainment lineup varied.
Which Hempfest Should I Attend?
There are many Hempfest events in the United States, from the Boston Hempfest held in mid-September (technically the Boston Freedom Rally) to the Hemp Festival in Montrose, Colorado. The festivals vary in attendance and length, from a single full day or a span of several. The most well-attended Hempfest in the United States, with close to 100,000 attendees annually, is the Seattle Hempfest, which takes place in mid-August at adjacent Seattle city parks right on the water near downtown. The setting, with the Olympic mountains in the background and ferry boats crisscrossing Puget Sound next to the main stage, couldn’t be more picturesque. Originally billing itself as a “protestival,” the Seattle Hempfest has grown so successful that it’s officially licensed its brand and model to other cities and states. These include Boise, Idaho for an April Hempfest, Oakland, Oregon and Wasilla, Alaska in June, and a possible Las Vegas Hempfest tentatively scheduled for early November.
Is Hempfest an Open-Air Pot Dispensary? Can I buy pot there?
Officially, you cannot buy, acquire, or use cannabis at a Hempfest. For example, even in Seattle, where pot is decriminalized, marijuana is still illegal under federal law and it is illegal to use it in a public space. However, police officers at Seattle’s Hempfest – and there are many there — have been known to turn a “blind eye” to cannabis use in public, especially at Hempfest. Seattle police are so cool about cannabis at Hempfest that they’ve even distributed bags of chips emblazoned with information about Washington state’s pot legalization to Hempfest attendees. Talk about a police force’s willingness to serve their community! But we wouldn’t recommend pushing their good will too far…
Also, due to restrictions on advertising for pot businesses near city parks or public property, most likely there will not be cannabis openly for sale at Hempfest, whichever one you attend. Any sales would have to be conducted in a covert, and legally questionable, manner. To avoid any legal entanglements or frustrations, it may be better to bring you own stash to the festival or look at it as a weed-free time to mingle with like-minded folks (though that does seem to defeat the purpose, somewhat).
What’s the vibe at Hempfest?
The founder of Seattle’s Hempfest, Vivian McPeak, said in a 2016 interview with the Seattle Weekly that Hempfest is really about freedom and about “defending against the drug war … with panache and style and creativity.” Most Hempfest events have a pro-marijuana, politically-engaged component, mixed with a groovy hippie vibe (think hemp jewelry and glass pipes for sale), further tossed with a bit of bro/frat boy culture. Hempfest attracts all types. The festivals do heavily rely on volunteer labor to keep things running; most festivals do not charge for admission or simply ask for donations at the door. Therefore, do your best to help volunteers out by pitching your trash in the right place, not bringing your pet inside the grounds if animals are not allowed, and contributing some cash to the donation bin if you can.
Anything else I should know?
Have fun! Hempfest might just offer the best people-watching you’ll encounter all year, and the gathering tends to attract people of all ages: the guy with the long grey beard who’s been working for marijuana legalization since the 1970s, to the high school girl with a pierced nose who recently tried pot for the first time. (Yes, Hempfest, as a constitutionally-protected free speech event, cannot restrict admission based on age. There will likely be children there.) Slather on the sunscreen — this is an outdoor summer festival after all — check the event schedule, bring some cash, and have a great time!