What happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas, this time.
In what appears to be a clash of cannabis cultures, Seattle Hempfest, which bills itself as “the world’s largest protestival,” and Las Vegas Hempfest no longer wish to be associated with each other.
Seattle Hempfest, which has now started “franchising” the Hempfest name to festivals in other states, on Wednesday announced that it has “come to a mutual agreement” to “terminate the Las Vegas Hempfest cobranding.”
“The Seattle Hempfest owns a federal copyright on the term HEMPFEST, and had contracted with the Las Vegas Hempfest to use the name in a licensing agreement in an effort to increase brand awareness and reach,” Wednesday’s press release tells us. “After a three year run both organizations have mutually agreed to part ways, with the Las Vegas Hempfest assuming a different event name of Las Vegas Hemp Festival.”
“We wish the Vegas event much success, and we support all responsible cannabis reform events and social gatherings,” Vivian McPeak, executive director of Seattle Hempfest, said in a prepared statement. “The two organizations have a differing vision of what a traditional ‘Hempfest’ event should be, so we have amicably dissolved the licensing relationship to allow Las Vegas event to follow its vision unhindered by the contractual agreements.”
Las Vegas Hemp Festival owner Mike “Chili” Houlihan said he was unaware of the press release from Seattle Hempfest when I contacted him on Wednesday.
‘Promises Were Not Kept’
According to some activists, once one navigates through the thicket of political-speak which surrounds pretty much everything McPeak says publicly, that “differing vision” he mentioned means that Las Vegas didn’t pay Seattle its “franchise fee” for use of the Hempfest name. (Houlihan of the Las Vegas event, meanwhile, has a completely different take on things; see below.)“Lots of local problems arose after promises were not kept by Chili, and many vendors and organizers were not paid,” activist Amy Fisher, who was at the 2016 event, told me. “This is an ongoing problem I have seen for all three Hempfests I have brought my Hemp Museum to.” (By the way, Amy, a solid activist, could really use some help with the Hemp Museum. “I can’t afford to pay all by myself to take it to events anymore,” she told us. “So it will remain in storage for the time being.”)
“The Las Vegas organizer was a dirt bag,” averred one less charitable Seattle Hempfest insider. “It was a gated event, so admission was charged; he was supposed to share a portion of that with Seattle Hempfest for using the name,” the insider, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Toke Signals. “He had a lot of vendors there he owed money to, also.”
“There is only a [licensing] fee if you have a gated event,” this source told us. “A free event is also fee-free.”
“The amount was not big,” the source told us. “It’s way more about the guy’s dirtbag factor. Nothing but problems to deal with, then he doesn’t pay his bills to anyone, by the looks of it.”
According to this source, Las Vegas is the only Hempfest-licensed event that charged admission. “Oregon, Idaho and Alaska are all free events,” he told me, “so they can use the name free. Lots of places use it without asking, anyway, too.”
‘Brian got high on speed and mollys and left the event’
“This last event, the stage manager from Seattle Hempfest, Brian, got high on speed and Mollys [Ecstasy] and left the event before the end,” Fisher told Toke Signals. “Also, the speakers who traveled in from out of state, me included, did not get to give their speeches. It cost me over $800 to bring the Hemp Museum to the event.”
“From what I can understand, it’s ‘Where did all the money go,’ and that’s what everybody in Las Vegas is asking Chili,” Fisher said. “Also, VIP was not as promised — gift bags, amenities, etc. In essence, Las Vegas Hempfest was making Seattle Hempfest look bad.”
“I’m tired of watching people get screwed over in this industry,” Amy said. “I do it to help people.”
Making Amends?According to Cindy Brown, another activist who has attended all three years of Las Vegas Hempfest, “He [Chili] had a deal with Ask Nurse Juhlzie that was rather funky, but he did end up paying her; just not as much as he should have,” Cindy told us. “From what I’m told Chili is supposed to be finally making amends with all the people he screwed in the past, but I’m not sure, as I have stayed clear.”
“I think he is bipolar and it really sucks because he has always been nice to me and my hubby, but he hasn’t to others,” Brown said.
“A few who have told me he didn’t get the VIP [goodie bags] right have been able to get him to give the ‘swag bags’ to them, after the fest,” Brown said. “He does seem to respect me and hubby, and I’d like to help him do things right, but I don’t know if he’d be receptive.”
“I really wish the cannabis industry would grow some compassion instead of greed and divisiveness,” Cindy said.
Update: It’s Official. Chili (Mike Houlihan) of Las Vegas Hempfest reached out to me (Juhlzie) through PM to arrange for us to meet and “come to an agreement that is reasonable”. (In reference to the LVH2014/2015 where a bunch of things went wrong and invoices unpaid). A meeting has been set at my attorney’s office conference room this week and Chili has agreed to meet along with a 3rd party person who has volunteered to assist. I am a forgiving person when someone is sincerely apologetic and makes things right. It’s just nerve racking to even begin to trust when so much has happened with twisted stories, and being bullied for so long. I’m told he’s “trying to make things right”. If so, that means anyone else who still has issues from previous years may have a shot at reimbursement or amends too. It’s amazing how bringing awareness in a peaceful fashion publicly has brought us to today. I can only hope that this meeting will come out with paid invoices, sincere apologies for behaviors, and mended friendships. I as a nurse have seen about everything but this will be a positive first in my book if it goes right. I will keep you all posted. #fingerscrossed #ChoosetheRight
Mike ‘Chili’ Houlihan Speaks
I was able to speak on the telephone Wednesday afternoon with Mike Houlihan. While he definitely came off as a businessman, he also seemed to be a personable and approachable guy.
“We could still use the Hempfest name if we wanted to,” Houlihan said, when I asked him about the licensing. “It’s just that we don’t want to conflict with everybody. We want to separate from them.”“It was my idea,” Chili said of the separation. “I’m the one who wanted to get out of their — out of any business relationship with them. They’re nice people; I’ve known them for a long time. I respect what they’ve done. We just had different opinions on where to go.
“They are a little bit old fashioned, I might say,” Houlihan told us. “I’m not being rude. Just a little bit old fashioned for me. They’re based more on just activism and rallies, and we’re based more on the new era.”
What “new era” might that be? “We’re more focused on marijuana business-to-business, conferences, trade shows, expos, new products, and on fun,” Houlihan said.
‘It Just Made Us Look Bad’
“Each year, there are too many stories from Seattle Hempfest, press releases saying that this might be their last year — that Seattle Hempfest is hurting, and they need donations.” [Editor’s note: He speaks the truth. <– Each word of the previous sentence leads to a separate link where Seattle Hempfest says it is in danger and needs donations; four links total.]
“Now, that’s all good, but it was conflicting with us,” Chili said. “We’re a paid event. We’re not a nonprofit event. And people were coming at us, thinking we were going out of business, because of that.
“I would confront Seattle Hempfest, saying ‘You need to go about this in a different way. You’re hurting yourself. You’re hurting your brand, publicly announcing, through publication, that this might be your last year. Saying that you’re falling apart financially — that doesn’t look good for anybody.’
“And they would say, ‘This is how we do it,'” Mike told us. “‘This is how we get people to donate.’“But it just made us look bad,” Houlihan said. “It was just time. There were some issues where… Well, there were never any real issues. Just different opinions on how we do things.”
“The biggest part for me was, I’m branding,” Chili said. “You know, I actually did hemp festivals in 1992 in Northern California, in Humboldt. I mean, you can Google it. It was a long time ago. I’ve been producing them with Gary Tovar, my friend of 35 years, the creator of the Coachella Festival.
“And I’ve been doing this for 32 years,” he said. “We were actually doing Hempfest before we were branding the name Hempfest, doing events in California and Las Vegas, before Vivian [McPeak] was able to get a trademark on it. But all of that came after; it was a different matter.
“They have been using the name Hempfest for 24, 25 years,” Houlihan said. “And I don’t want people to put us together as company. That was my whole purpose behind wanting to separate it. It seems they’ve branded ‘Hempfest,’ so I said, ‘I just need to get out of this, guys; it’s just not working.’
‘If I’m Going To Build A Brand, I’m Going To Build It For Myself’
“They tried, Cyril [Bouanna, chairman of the Seattle Hempfest Board of Directors] tried to talk me into it,” Chili said. “He said, ‘We want to keep you. We really like what we’re doing with you guys.’ I said, ‘It’s just not working for me. If I’m going to build a brand, I’m going to build it for myself. I’m not going to build it for you guys.”
Houlihan said his event, now called the Las Vegas Hemp Festival, is bigger and better than ever, without Seattle’s help. “We’ve got a huge lineup of people,” he said of the event, which is coming up April 1. “We’ve got ICP, we’ve got NWA, we’ve got Bone Thugz — a whole bunch of good talent. We’re even awarding Willie Nelson a Lifetime Achievement Award.
“So it’s going to go off, and we’ve also just launched a Hemp Festival now in Costa Rica, March 17-18-19,” Houlihan said. “We have a Hempfest next weekend in Puerto Rico; we have flyers all over for that. And we have a Hempfest in Tijuana, in June for 3 days, I mean a Hemp Festival. And we have a Hemp Festival in San Diego in July, and we have a Hemp Festival coming up in Texas that we’re working with the state on, now.
“We’re branding out there,” he said. “It’s not a competition between us and Seattle. I love them. They’re great people; they’re friendly people. We just have so many different opinions on where to go with it, so it had to be done. There’s no fighting, no firing, no anger issues that, you know, led to this. It’s just my choice.
‘I Don’t Need Anybody Micro-Managing Me’
“I’m a 52-year-old man,” Houlihan said. “I know this business better than anybody. I wrote the book on all the tricks about it (laughs), and I don’t need anybody micro-managing me and trying to police my events. Their opinions conflict with the way I run things, so it was just best.”
According to Chili, the licensing fees weren’t the issue at all.
“The licensing fees are very, very small,” Houlihan said. “I mean, it’s like, less than $5,000 each event. This event brings in $200,000 minimum each year, so there’s no problem with that.
“Last June, I mean, I flew them all down,” he said. “Flew down five of them to work at the event, paid them a lot of money to work at my event. You know, Sharon [Whitson] running my vendors; Cyril [Bouanna] working my box office, and put ’em up in hotels.
“There is a balance of $2,500, fees that are still owed right now, but that’s until we have our Departure Agreement done and settled,” Houlihan said. “I’m a businessman. I can’t leave a contracted partnership without a Departure Agreement [laughs], because that could come back and bite anybody in the ass. So we’re just waiting on the attorneys.
“They are just working in a different way,” he said. “They are just a whole different monster. You’ve got to be able to be up with the game, or you’re not going to survive.”
“People come to Vegas because they want the bling. They want the show,” Houlihan said. “I love the NORMLs and the Vivians, who kind of paved the way from the early days; there’s a lot of pioneers. But there’s a lot of great people today, too, that are doing wonderful things.
“But it’s Vegas,” he said. “So we do carnival rides; we’ve got zip lines across the lake. We’ve got the 420 Nurses, beauty contests, dabbing contests. Our band lineups are different. We tend to grab some of the harder, more aggressive, and bigger bands. But they’re all weed-related.”
Vegas Hempfest After-Parties A Source Of Conflict With Seattle“One of the conflicts was our after-parties,” Houlihan revealed. “We do these big, elaborate after-parties, and a couple of them were on the rooftop of the big Hustler building. It was a big thing, with Lil Wayne and Paris Hilton DJ-ing, things like that.
“But that really offended Seattle — they said, “That’s boobs!” [Laughter] “‘We can’t have that! That’s not what Hempfest is about!’
“Well, excuse me, these people medicate as well,” Chili said. “You’re kind of cornering me. I’m sorry; I understand that this woman had cancer and a breast removed, and I’m all for that. But at the same time, I can’t discriminate. I mean, it’s Vegas.”