"Come out of the closet" about marijuana use was the theme of this year's
Seattle Hempfest, the fragrant annual waterfront event. And at least
several of the tens of thousands of festival-goers did come out of the closet.

And went into jail.

While Seattle police kept a low profile and commended Hempfest sponsors for
an orderly, well-organized event Saturday and yesterday, it was clear that
Initiative 75 -- a top political priority of the festival's promoters --
isn't law yet, if it ever will be.

If I-75 gains enough voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot
and Seattle residents approve it, it would make adult possession of small
amounts of marijuana the city's lowest law enforcement priority.

At Myrtle Edwards Park yesterday, as I-75 proponents circulated petitions
to put it on the ballot, it wasn't yet the lowest priority.

Police, following a "zero tolerance" policy, arrested four people Saturday
and four more yesterday as of 5:45 p.m. One was busted on suspicion of
smoking marijuana and the other seven on suspicion of selling marijuana to
undercover officers, according to patrol Lt. Daniel Whelan.

Those seven wouldn't have been protected by I-75 anyway, of course, since
it would de-emphasize only personal possession. Whelan said one of the
illicit entrepreneurs had 2 pounds of marijuana, packaged for sale, in his

Overall, however, the lieutenant said there were "very few problems and
everyone seems to be very well-behaved" -- despite what Hempfest promoters
estimated was a two-day turnout exceeding 150,000 for what they called "the
nation's largest drug policy reform event."

Keith Stroup, founder and director of the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, the nation's most prominent
marijuana-law group, proclaimed it "the biggest and the finest pro- hemp
event in the world." He told the crowd that the laws should be changed
because, among other things, one-third of all adult Americans have used
marijuana at some time in their lives.

Whelan said the "charged political nature of the event" seemed to prompt
Hempfest organizers to go out of their way to ensure that the festival's
1,000-strong volunteer staff cooperated with police.

Most festival-goers were there perhaps less for the political cause than
for the non-stop music, the food, the spectacle and the mellow,
'60s-throwback ambience.

As usual, the scent of marijuana wafted among Hempfest's crowded, mile-long
strip of musical and speaking stages and vendors' tents and booths. The
latter's wares included hemp T-shirts and bags, hemp chocolate-covered
bananas, hemp-seed brownies, marijuana water pipes, silk marijuana-leaf
leis and tie-dyed underwear.

More than 50 political organizations, including the American Civil
Liberties Union and NORML, took part as did more than 50 musical groups,
sharing seven stages with about 50 speakers.

Speaker after speaker, including City Councilman Nick Licata, urged the
crowds to sign Initiative 75 petitions and vote for it.

"The war on drugs is a miserable war. It's a racist war," Licata told the
crowd. "We here in Seattle, with Initiative 75, are going to be the first
to change it."

As Licata spoke, a few in his audience lit up and passed around joints,
despite what Whelan said were instructions to police officers to "take
action if they see anyone smoking marijuana."

"Of course," he added, "when you smell marijuana smoke, you don't always
see who's smoking it."

Dominic Holden, director of Hempfest and campaign manager of Sensible
Seattle, sponsor of Initiative 75, said this 11th annual festival sought to
encourage adults who smoke pot to "come out of the closet on marijuana and
admit that they are responsible marijuana users," and demand that they no
longer be treated as criminals.

I-75 sponsors have until Thursday to turn in the 17,228 signatures they
need to qualify for the ballot. They submitted 19,600 signatures Aug. 2,
but Matt Fox, the campaign coordinator, said about 5,000 were found to be
invalid. Fox said a professional signature-gathering firm has been hired,
and he and Holden expressed confidence that names collected at Hempfest
should give them enough.

Hempfest was a bazaar for a variety of causes, mostly marijuana- related,
including that of a forlorn man who would identify himself only as Tod. He
held up a cup for donations and a cardboard sign identifying himself as a
"refugee/P.O.W. of war on pot" who was betrayed by a friend and unwittingly
delivered 40 pounds of pot to undercover police officers.

"Results: 7 months in jail! 10 years probation! $5,000 fine! And I'm
broke!" the sign said.

Tod, 31, said he got out of jail six months ago and has five years to pay
the fine. After two hours at Hempfest, he had collected $25.

Pubdate: Mon, 19 Aug 2002
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Webpage: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/83279_hempfest19.shtml
Copyright: 2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact: editpage@seattle-pi.com
Website: http://www.seattle-pi.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/408
Author: Neil Modie
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Cannabis)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/decrim.htm (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/props.htm (Ballot Initiatives)