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STEVE ELLIOTT

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Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, left, and Hempfest Executive Director Vivian McPeak, 2013. [Joshua Trujilloa/Seattle PI.com]
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Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, left, and Hempfest Executive Director Vivian McPeak, 2013.
[Joshua Trujilloa/Seattle PI.com]

Ah, Seattle Hempfest. A carefree weekend of getting high the park, a little bit of heaven on Earth, where…
IT’S A FELONY TO GET HIGH IN THE PARK?

In the most painful of ironies, under Washington state’s anemic brand of “legalization,” smoking marijuana at Seattle Hempfest is now a felony offense, at least according to a Thursday afternoon post from Hempfest head honcho Vivian McPeak.

Last year the City of Seattle required us to create Adult Smoking Lounges, which costs us many thousands of dollars to create and staff. This year we have sold sponsorships for the Lounge, arranged security staffing, and reserved all of the fencing and equipment. Today, 15 days before HEMPFEST, the city contacted us telling us that we need to remove the entire structure because, under the new Senate Bill 2136, it is now a CLASS C FELONY to not only provide an area for consuming cannabis in a public park (or anywhere else, for that matter). THIS, my friends, is our new “legalization”.

That was the entirety of McPeak’s original post, and it was pretty pointed. But McPeak, a political animal if nothing else, quickly edited the post to file away any sharp edges, rushing to add that “This is not the city of Seattle’s fault. This is the act of a State Legislature that considers cannabis on par with Oxycontin.”

The backstory is, Hempfest tried last year to adapt to 502-style “legalization” by introducing a “smoking garden.” The underlying agenda here was to channel recreational pot smoking into a controlled area, rather than having the traditional toke-it-up free-for-all that happens every year. But after thousands of dollars’ expense, the smoking garden was widely ignored, even derided. And that’s a problem, legally speaking. But even the smoking garden itself is now illegal, which is what had McPeak perturbed enough to make his original post (now deleted, for what it’s worth).

Also a problem, legally speaking and particularly in view of all this, is the fact that thousands of pot smokers, many of them minors, will be publicly using marijuana in the park all weekend anyway — as they have for a couple of decades now. Maybe they didn’t get the memo that legalization isn’t allowed to be fun in Washington?

According to McPeak:

SESSHB 2136, Section 1401 makes it a class C felony to “conduct or maintain a public place where . . . consumption of marijuana is permitted.” “Public place,” is defined as in RCW 66.04.010, which includes in pertinent part: “publicly owned bathing beaches, parks, and/or playgrounds; and all other places of like or similar nature to which the general public has unrestricted right of access, and which are generally used by the public.” I may have received incorrect info regarding the consumption of cannabis, and I am checking on that part.

One can imagine frantic attorneys and PR people freaking the fuck out at this point, with Hempfest just a couple of weeks away. Just 30 minutes after his original post, in a comment, McPeak completely reversed himself:

I do not believe it is a felony to imbibe in the park or anywhere else. I believe that was incorrect information I had received. I have the bill on my desk, I have just not had time to read it completely yet. I apologize for spreading the wrong info about that.

Bevery Hills' Cheryl Shuman (left) and Vivian McPeak in 2012, the year Shuman won a special Activist of the Year Award and destroyed Moms For Marijuana [Beverly Hills Cannabis Club]
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Beverly Hills’ Cheryl Shuman (left) and Vivian McPeak in 2012, the year Shuman won Hempfest’s Activist of the Year Award
[Beverly Hills Cannabis Club]

Ironically, nobody’s arguing that smoking marijuana in the park at Hempfest isn’t against the law. The only point of contention is, how badly against the law it is to smoke weed in the park — under, mind you, legalization.

One of the dumbest possible reactions to this mess has already occurred: People saying “Well, it’s always been illegal to smoke marijuana in the park.” It’s almost as if they sound proud about the fact — or at least are apologists for it — that Washington’s legalization law has made it worse against the law to do so.

While McPeak would probably be quick to claim that the passage of I-502 and SB 5052 have nothing to do with what’s happening here, he’s in error on that point (sorry, Viv!). He’s splitting hairs by choosing to blame it all on SB 2136, and saying “it’s not legalization’s fault; it’s not 502’s fault,” even “it’s not SB 5052’s fault,” when of course there would never have been an SB 2136 without the passage of I-502 and SB 5052. SB 2136 was supposedly written to reform the “tax and regulate” aspect of the legal marijuana market, the one that seems most dear to the hearts of our esteemed lawmakers.

I guess this shows just how clueless are those who ask if cannabis activism is even necessary anymore in Washington state. I’d say “who ask if Hempfest is even necessary anymore,” but it’s been awhile since Hempfest had much to do with real activism here… You know, ever since they choked in the clutch in 2012, during the I-502 debate. Seattle Hempfest has become, as I noted in 2013, more of a trade show than a “protestival.

Of course activism is still necessary in Washington state! Safe access for medical marijuana patients at reasonable costs is going down the tubes here, with dispensaries being shut down (for lack of a nonexistent “license”) and the right of patients to grow their own being scaled sharply back from 15 plants to 4 (off the patient registry) or 6 plants if you register. There are plenty of politicians in the Legislature still gunning for patient cultivation, too.

More’s the pity, given that the focus is now heavily on money rather than activism, that almost all of the actual work surrounding the event is performed by dedicated, idealistic, UNPAID volunteers. There are maybe three or four salaried positions (McPeak, Davis, maybe General Manager/Director of Operations Sharon Whitson) at the top of the organization, and everybody else donates their time and talents, because they “believe in the cause.” This works out really well for organizers of the event, and many of the volunteers consider it a win/win busting ass all weekend, just to be associated with Hempfest.

Hempfest CEO John Davis, left, and Executive Director Vivian McPeak, right. Davis has financial ties to I-502 businesses which successfully lobbied the Washington Legislature to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. [Amy Radil/KUOW]
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Hempfest CEO John Davis, left, and Executive Director Vivian McPeak, right. Davis has financial ties to I-502 businesses which successfully lobbied the Washington Legislature to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
[Amy Radil/KUOW]

But this “no pot smoking at Hempfest” nonsense gives me cruelly ironic flashbacks of Seattle Hempfest 2012, when there were YES ON 502 banners on every large stage, and no corresponding NO ON 502 banners… apparently, Hempfest’s brand of “neutral.” When I asked about this at the time, I was told that the “NO” camp “couldn’t afford” to have a banner on the stage… obviously, Hempfest didn’t feel “neutral” enough to donate space, and thus piss off their deep-pocketed I-502 sponsors.

Any fronting of “neutrality,” of course, went out the window after I-502 passed in November 2012. Hempfest CEO John Davis, who has financial ties to I-502 businesses and supported SB-5052, reportedly ran Core Group meetings like a tin horn dictator, according to one reliable source on the inside, telling patients they were engaging in “hate speech” and shutting them down whenever they mentioned that safe access to medical marijuana was being imperiled by the implementation of legalization.

Back in 2012 when I tried to warn that I-502’s brand of “legalization” could be bad for Hempfest, and looked a whole lot like a Trojan Horse, McPeak groused that I was being too dramatic, being “alarmist” and bad for business.

I wonder if he still thinks that now?

…….

Open Invitation to Anyone Mentioned in This Article: Speak your piece, man. Give me your quotes. Do anything but whine; that’s really annoying.

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