• by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director September 2, 2008

    img_0008.jpgNORML Advisory Board Member and travel author Rick Steves addresses 100,000 @ 2008 Seattle Hempfest

    By George Rohrbacher, NORML Board Member

    The largest marijuana legalization rally in the world, Hempfest, is held annually on the third weekend of August at Myrtle Edwards Park on the Seattle waterfront. This free marquee event usually attracts well over 200,000 people in attendance and Hempfest ’08, Aug. 16-17, was no exception, if not the record—because the weather on the Seattle waterfront was perfect for a mass gathering! The total number of attendees might well have topped 300,000.

    Saturday was blazing hot, or as blazing hot as it can get along the shoreline of Puget Sound. The sky was clear blue and the sun was very intense. As the afternoon progressed, it increasingly reflected off the water onto the crowd, near record amounts of fund-raising “Legalize It!” water were consumed by the crowd. This day was Seattle at its very best—and at its most tattooed—and at its most skimpily dressed.

    Thankfully Sunday started off slightly overcast and a notch cooler, because by 4:00pm on the second day of the event, crowds in the 2-mile-long park were so thick that the density of the people on the pathways and the open spaces was virtually the same. The music and the message of marijuana legalization rocked continually all weekend long from the four stages set-up about a ¼- mile apart along the linear waterfront park. At each stage after each band finished playing, and as the next band was setting up, activists, such as myself, Rick Steves, Allen St. Pierre, Keith Stroup, and several other NORML board members, along with a boatload of other fine folks regaled the public about the 71 years of negative societal consequences from the prohibition of marijuana. This was the fifth Hempfest I was privileged to attend as a speaker. My speech topic this year was “America’s 20-millionth marijuana arrest is coming on 10/10/08”. I got to wail away at the bustling crowds on this topic from the three music stages over two days and I spoke at the Hemposium stage on “Abraham Lincoln, Hempster.” Hemp can now rightfully claim 3 out of 4 at Mt. Rushmore!

    So, how does all this happen, how does this huge fun and glorious “protestival”, this FREE Hempfest come into being? Dozens of bands playing on 4 stages, dozens of speakers, seminars and demonstrations, put in front of hundreds of thousands people along the gorgeous Seattle waterfront, and ALL FOR FREE? How is this possible? The answer: Hempfest is one of America’s largest All-Volunteer Events! The bands play for free. The speakers speak for free. There are 54 crews, totaling about 1500 volunteers, some working year-round, that make this modern marvel called “Hempfest” happen, from permitting and planning months in advance to picking up the very last piece of paper when all the shouting’s over, it’s the Hempfest volunteers that make this incredible thing happen, and it’s been that way for all 17 years of Hempfest’s existence. The $200,000 for direct expenses, electricity, port-a-potties, etc, come from booth rentals, contributions, and water sales. But the real backbone of the enterprise, is the hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours, that is what brings this marvelous creation, Hempfest, to life each year. Virtually every volunteer I’ve ever talked to, tells me that their involvement, their participation in Hempfest, their contribution to making Hempfest happen is one of the most important things that they did that year. It’s pride. It shows. It shows everywhere at every level at Hempfest.


    Three years ago while walking Hempfest, I came upon the command detail of the Seattle Police Department, four sergeants, a patrolman or two, and some important guy with scrambled eggs on his hat. As a grey beard, a former member of the state legislature, a board member of NORML, I stopped to thank them for serving and then quizzed this group on how this detail differed from patrolling the professional football or baseball stadiums with crowds of near the same size. The oldest sergeant laughed and said, “Patrolling Hempfest—a two day event—is like patrolling a Girl Scout picnic compared to dealing with the drunks at Safeco Field, 80 games plus a year.” The whole bunch nodded their heads in agreement. And the sergeant was right, because leaving the encounter only a few minutes later, in a particularly tight clutch of people, someone bumped up against me from the side, and we, immediately, almost instinctively, both apologized, and then moved on, both our good buzz and good nature still intact. Stoners get along, go figure. In the three years since then, I’ve talked to dozens of cops at Hempfest and they have all told me pretty much the same thing—the 200,000 plus stoners are so peaceful, that patrolling Hempfest, as a police detail, is seen by most police as almost a vacation day.

    Saturday evening, after I’d gotten done speaking on the mainstage, my son, a family friend, and I were leaving the backstage enclosure. As we walked along the fence near the stage, there in our path was a blue-jeaned butt facing us, and as we passed, the owner straightened up slightly, it was Vivian McPeak, the Hempfest Director. He was picking up trash. Vivian, who had coordinated this huge army of 1,500 volunteers, working non-stop for weeks, was also in charge of the mainstage and had just introduced the band that was playing, had run outside with a trashbag on his free moment. As we walked by, I grabbed my son’s arm, pointed to Vivian, and said, “See, that’s the biggest boss of Hempfest there, picking up trash in the middle of his main stage shift. There’s true Leadership. He leads by example. Hempfest is not only one of America’s largest but one of its finest all-volunteer events.”

    So, how many great bands and speakers can you take in the cause of cannabis legalization? How many semi-naked sun worshipers could one watch in two beautiful sun-drenched days? Hempfest is the best place I know of to come find the answer to these kinds of questions. So set your calendar, third weekend in August and I’ll see you at Hempfest ’09, and help us end marijuana prohibition. Come to Hempfest next year and volunteer, or just pick up a sack of trash on our way out, either way, the very act of volunteering warms that spot in your body just above your stomach and just below your heart, the seat of contentment, the seat of real happiness.

    Thank you Hempfest for showing the way.


    1. Dustin says:

      sounds like a good time wish i could have been there

    2. Austin says:

      Thank you all for your continued commitment to ending this unjust prohibition of cannabis. Without volunteers such as at the Hempfest gathering, our cause would be just as empty as the brains of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

    3. […] admin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe oldest sergeant laughed and said, “Patrolling Hempfest—a two day event—is like patrolling a Girl Scout picnic compared to dealing with the drunks at Safeco Field, 80 games plus a year.” The whole bunch nodded their heads in … Read the rest of this great post here […]

    4. Francis says:

      Hempfest sounds amazing! Gee, I wonder how many anti-marijuana groups could draw those kinds of numbers and volunteer support? Every time I research a little bit about who is against marijuana, it always seems to be a government agency or a non-profit organization that relies almost entirely upon government funding.

      Hooray for the volunteer efforts in Seattle.

      Ft. Wayne, IN

    5. Bruno says:

      Hempfest was Amazing! I think getting to meet the NORML crew was the most exciting part for me. And the VaporBros tent. And the food.. and music. And the smoke…

      It was flat out awesome. This was my first of many Hempfest attendances. Next year I plan to volunteer too.

      For all you readers, make a plan to come out to Seattle for it next year – you will never experience anything like Hempfest.

    6. Amazing.
      I wish I could have been there to experience it.

      Thank you to all who make a huge difference!

    7. john says:

      as stagehand on mainstage,every year’s hempfest is eagerly awaited.i get to escort my heroes to the stage and their instruments,and watch as they speak or play.fun times indeed.Rick Steves is very friendly in person,real nice.it’s an honor to help doing my part to end this pogrom against the people.LEGALIZE IT NOW !!!HELP US !!!LETS ALL BE FREE<AND HAVE THE RIGHT TO PERSUE HAPPINESS !!!

    8. Andrew Lang says:

      THAT MANY ATTENDEEES just in Seattle alone should show the government Just HOW many Marijuana USers there are, YOU CANT STOP US GOVERENMENT , WE will MUtiply and Alll you WIll eventually be gone and who will be left the young generation who beleives POts not bad at all, and then we’ll jail the real drug dealers like mccaines wife, and other polticians and government officals who make are drug probelm what it is today, and hasnt anybody noticed dispensary count in calfornia over teh last 5 years, It sure AS HELL AINT GETTIN LESS ive seen it go from 70 to 100 to 200 to 300 to 500 to 700 and so on , THe goverenment cant stop marijuana and it wont, NOW GET THAT THROUGH YOUR FUCKIN HEAD GOVT

    9. The Seattle Hempfest is the largest pro-pot gathering in the country each year, and a truly amazing experience. I have had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the last dozen or so annual events, and it is my favorite public event of the year.

      Vivian McPeak and the throngs of committed Hempfest volunteers deserve our highest accolades for planning and implementing this marvelous two-day happening each year. It surely does put a lie to the old claim that marijuana smokers are incapable of doing much more than sitting on the sofa and getting high.

      For 48 hours in August each year, the responsible use of marijuana is de facto legal in Myrtle Edwards Park on the waterfront in Seattle. All cannabis smokers in America should experience this unique and empowering experience.

    10. spencer for higher says:

      so,how many people got busted for smoking or trading goods? If the answer is “noone”, then yeah, thats the place to be!)