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August 21, 2005 - Seattle Times (WA)

Hempfest Fans Rockin' The Joint

By Julia Sommerfeld, Seattle Times staff reporter

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Spontaneous drum circles, stick jugglers wearing jester hats and a raffle for a 3 1/2-foot-tall bong.

It must be Seattle Hempfest.

When the festival ends today, organizers expect the gathering -- billed as "the world's phattest protestival" -- to have drawn as many as 150,000 attendees to Myrtle Edwards Park for free concerts, pro-pot speeches and a milelong strip of hemp-based shopping opportunities. In the market for "hemp litter for small pets"?

The event, now in its 14th year, aims to decriminalize marijuana and legalize domestic hemp production. It's illegal to grow hemp -- a cousin of marijuana -- in the United States. But products made from it - -- such as paper, soap and granola mix -- are legal to sell and consume. However, some consider the peasant skirts and ponchos commonly made from the fibers to be crimes of fashion.

Amid the rope jewelry and $5 brownies yesterday, the medical marijuana movement took center stage with a speech by Angel Raich of California. Raich was the chief litigant in the U.S. Supreme Court case that earlier this year upheld the federal government's power to prosecute patients who smoke marijuana -- and the people who grow it for them -- despite state laws, including Washington's, that allow medicinal use.

"This war is far from over. I'm not going to give up. I'm going to keep fighting until there's no fight left," said Raich, who has been using cannabis since 1997. She suffers from a long list of medical conditions, including an inoperable brain tumor and chronic-wasting disease, which robs her of her appetite.

Also speaking on behalf of medical marijuana laws was state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.

Others were there to share less serious educational messages. "People mistakenly think B.C. bud is so special. But I can speak on behalf of the entire Hempfest staff when I say our local pot is far better," explained volunteer Rick Olson, who also works on the public-access show "THC TV."

Many weren't shy about firing up a joint while they lounged in the park.

Seattle police were there, but spokesman Sean Whitcomb explained, "Marijuana enforcement is one of our lowest priorities. Keeping the public safe is our No. 1 mission at Hempfest."

But as fair warning, he added, "That doesn't mean we don't enforce a crime if it happens in front of an officer."

In other words, it's not wise to rub their noses in it.

"This event is great for showing the public they shouldn't fear legalizing pot," explained Sara Sexton, 19, of Seattle. "We're just chilling, and there's never any trouble."

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