With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Seattle Hempfest 2017

PNW Sunset at Seattle Hempfest Festival
The 26th Annual Seattle Hempfest closes out the weekend with a gorgeous sunset.

Looking back at the decade plus of attending Hempfest, there are definitely stark changes that are starting to make themselves more clear.

I have fond memories of a community event, a festival celebrating the culture, people, the herb; a medicine for many. At the core, I know the cannabis community is still that; celebrating a plant and what it means for us. As I reflect on my Hempfest experiences past, I would like to share some of the most outstanding memories in mind.

Hempfest in Seattle, WA
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Happy Hempfest!

My very first Hempfest was in 2005, I still remember arriving and being blown away by the magnitude of the gathering, the amount of cannabis being smoked. Clouds rising above the waterfront while cops lined the outskirts of the park, unbothered by the marijuana smoke.

I felt dumbfounded. How could this legal?

You could feel the vibrations of positive energy emitting from everyone there. How could we not be happy on a Friday like that?! The sun was shining; people were smiling, pipes and joints were being passed around grassy circles and rocky spots along the waterfront.

My favorite memory about Hempfest was the grassroots family vibe you felt with many individuals peddling their own arts, crafts or edibles.

One memory specifically stands out at one of the very first Hempfest festivals I attended. I was walking behind a dad wheeling his toddler daughter around on a cooler. Every few minutes you would hear him softly shout “Brownies!” As we made our way through the crowds, he would get excited customers responding, prompting him to lift his daughter off the cooler and reach inside for a homemade treat. You would see people barter, trade, or gift at Hempfest.

Jesus is Love at Seattle hempfest signs
Seattle Hempfest brings everyone together with at least one common thread; cannabis.

It happened to me this year, so that energy is still present. I met a woman who gets trim for free and makes edibles for cancer patients. After our interview and conversation she gifted me a delicious bag with gooey fresh rice krispies.

There are other memories that stand out. Vendors, who for years would show up. My favorite was a woman from Vashon Island, who would always have her husband selling her clothes because he was more of a ‘stoner’ than she was. Her artistic pieces were so unique, I was always looking forward to her booth. After a few years, they stopped coming. Perhaps it was too expensive, or they just weren’t being profitable enough to make it worthwhile. After all, this three day event becomes at least a 14 hour day for those with tents trying to make some business while also connecting with others of a similar mindset.


As i-502 grows, and legalization of recreational becomes more mainstream through the process of ‘normalization,’ the cannabis community will begin to meet elements of commercialism that may be incredibly different from what we have known for decades.

You may have noticed, Hempfest was much smaller this year. According to Hempfest itself, supported by many posters plastered around the festival, it had shrunk by two stages, due to lack of funding.

The main stage at Seattle hempfest
The main stage at Seattle Hempfest hosts activists & musicians.

Hempfest has always been a free event, as it is a free-speech event, although often with signs suggesting a $10 donation at the entrances. With a slightly changing demographic each year, the donation total have fluctuated as well, especially in recent times.

It’s hard to say what is the real reason, and with so many changes in the Seattle area, from the cost of living to the legalization of cannabis, changes were bound to occur. It is a natural part of life and as the saying goes, “The only constant is change.”

Marley nature smokes the herb
Smoking some herb at the Marley Nature tent Seattle Hempfest.

But this change may have been predicted. In years past, Hempfest was a treat. Cannabis was, if only, medicinally legal at that point, or decriminalized. Yet, it still seemed like a mirage in the distance; recreational pot. So, it makes sense that  donations would be more frequent and larger in the past, working hard for cannabis reform. Fast forward to today, legal cannabis is a reality in our state, although still federally illegal. But this may perpetuate the idea that we are free and done fighting for this plant. That just isn’t true. Unfortunately, with legalization comes the idea that the fight is over, and thus we see a drastic change in the amount of donations being offered by those attending or supporting the event.

The operating costs of Hempfest come to about $800,000 but there are many restrictions in how the festival can fundraise to get the money they need to run it.

Almost every year you hear the whispers and sometimes even in print, is this going to be the last Hempfest ever? Last year Dope Magazine even started a GoFundMe page to help out the organization, but the folks behind Hempfest don’t think that is viable to do year after year.

Seattle Hempfest Founder Vivian McPeak had this to say about supporting your beloved “protestival.”

“What we really want to do is get the word out to people. Like, you’ve got 120 bands, 120 speakers, six stages, and 400 vendors right on the waterfront. There’s the Space Needle, there’s Mount Rainier, there’s the Puget Sound, and you’re blazin’ with impunity! How much is that fucking worth to you? Kick down 10 bucks! Ten bucks for the weekend, $3.33 a day. We’d be fat city! Ten bucks times 100,000 [attendees], that’d be $1 million. Instead we’re getting, on average, $0.46 for each attendee for the entire weekend.”

That is a sad reality to hear. On average, each attendee donates less than two quarters for a weekend of a lifetime of memories, changed viewpoints, elevated minds and total fun guaranteed.

Say, WHAT!?!

With changes in the setup, much of Seattle Hempfest seemed different to me in 2017. Music being displaced due to lack of space, created unique sounds for stages that historically, might have played a certain type of music, only. I always remember the main stage playing big names and having guest speakers, with the next stage, if you were heading north, playing rock most likely, while the last two stages were often reggae, rap, techno and house.

live art at Seattle Hempfest
We loved seeing TalkSick Mind do live art next to the Sky Standard Gardens, one of our vendors. TalkSick Mind designs all their cannabis art for marketing.

With no house or techno stages in sight, or sound, I noticed changes in vendors too. Through the last ten plus years there seems to be a shrinking of small, local businesses and a slow take over with large commercial companies grabbing spots along the shores of the Puget Sound at Myrtle Edwards Park, home for the Seattle Hempfest.

Of course, there is room for everyone here. But leading with our hearts will be a most important key in keeping to the tradition of what the community has been; a unique family, people knowing each other through years of sometimes daily interactions, as a necessity to life.


With the emerging cannabis market, it has invited out of state individuals to come and get involved in many different ways, mainly focused on driving their profitability.

This year I attended a Hempfest VIP After Party. In presence was a gentleman from California selling pipes. He met me and instantly went into a sales pitch. He wouldn’t drop it. That moment seemed wasted to me. Instead of joining the cannabis community, he chose to try to make a sale. We could have made a connection, talked about strains we love or how and why cannabis has changed our lives for the better. But we didn’t. I couldn’t tell if he really loved his glow in the dark pipes, or he was really that clueless. Perhaps just driven by sales. Regardless, it left a strong impression about the changing faces of Hempfest attendees.

Keeping the Spirit Alive

Seattle Hempfest is the world’s largest cannabis festival and free speech event! We need to make sure we stay true to the roots that have created the foundation on which we stand.

The next few years will really mold this industry and our state’s place in this market, so I urge everyone to continue to lead with their hearts, compassion and motivation to build something pure, real and helpful to all.

You can still make a donation to Seattle Hempfest to support their work year round, making this event such a community benefit to all.

Donate HERE.

three days of sunshine at Seattle Hempfest
We were blessed this year by gorgeous weather all weekend long for the 3-day Hempfest event.

Written By: Masha Brown


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