It’s fitting that Washington was one of the first states to legalize cannabis, as for the past 29 years it has been the home of Seattle Hempfest, one of largest and longest-running cannabis events in the world.
Due to COVID-19, Hempfest was forced to go virtual in 2020, with attendees dropping in on the free speech “protestival” from more than 30 countries, but organizers wonder what the future holds for the iconic event.
“Next year will be our 30th anniversary, and we end this year not really knowing what the landscape will look like in 2021,” executive director and co-founder Vivian McPeak says. “We don’t know if the pandemic will be under control enough that large gatherings such as Hempfest will be authorized to happen, or what the conditions might be if that happens. And we are facing economic challenges along with scores of other businesses and public events.”
Organizers have created a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to ensure the festival’s continuation.
Launched in 1991 as the Washington Hemp Expo, the festival grew from 500 attendees to nearly a quarter-million people at its peak in 2012. Over the past three decades, it has featured hundreds of musicians and speakers, including in 2006 former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, which organizers say is the first time a police chief spoke at a pro-marijuana event. Following legalization, the Seattle Police handed out Doritos to attendees, and Hempfest continued as a focal point of the cannabis community, though attendance numbers began to shrink. However, organizers say the protestival is more important than ever, and in 2019, still featured three stages of non-stop speakers and music and more than 400 arts, crafts, food and informational vendors.
“Hempfest today is equal parts victory celebration and call to action,” McPeak told Marijuana Venture in early 2020. “It’s critical that we maintain this momentum we have and finish the job. You don’t retreat when you win a battle; you retreat when you win the war. If anything, when you win a battle, you advance and ramp up your offensive. That’s what really needs to happen.”