(excerpts reprinted from today's Seattle Times)
What if pot were legal?
The fondest dream of Seattle Hempfesters has come true: Pot is legal.
But what of the iconic "protestival," with its swirl of tie-dye, aroma of patchouli and counterculture chic?
It could well morph into the kind of mainstream affair many of today's adherents abhor, concedes the man who launched the legalization movement nationwide more than 35 years ago. If people are able to buy weed like liquor and beer, it will probably come with the same kind of corporate trappings, said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "I would love to see only nonprofit cooperatives ... or little produce stands," he said Saturday at Hempfest 2006. "But the truth is somebody is going to make a lot of money off of marijuana."
The crush in Seattle's waterfront Myrtle Edwards Park on Saturday testified to the potential market. Organizers expect 150,000 people for the 15th annual event, which continues today and is the largest of its kind in the United States. The smell of marijuana wafted through the air, though most of the smokers gravitated to the margins of the crowd or gathered on rocks and logs on the beach. One group of six sharing a pipe gave their ages as 15 to 17, but declined to share their names. "My parents don't know I'm here," said one boy, wearing a rainbow-colored, crocheted cap pulled over blond dreadlocks.
In a world where the legal fight over marijuana has been settled, Hempfest spokesman Dominic Holden envisions a festival that would be more celebratory than activist. Like an Oktoberfest beer bash or a wine-tasting gala, participants could partake of different vintages and varieties of pot — probably in the kind of roped-off beer gardens common at concerts.
"Marijuana has an array of aromas and flavors, like fine tobacco," he said.
Former Seattle restaurateur Kanti Selig, selling brownies and cookies made with hemp seeds — sorry, no THC, pot's active ingredient — sees only good things if the drug becomes more widely available.
"It would make everyone less fearful," she said, pulling the lid off a 4-quart container to display the cocoa-brown hemp powder she uses in baking. Hemp — marijuana without the hallucinogenic effect — is grown for food and fiber. It can be imported, but cultivation is restricted in the United States.
If the high-protein plant were more widely available, the price would drop — seeds currently cost $12 to $13 a pound — and products like hemp milk, hemp cheese and hemp flour would be easier to get, she said.But a man who called himself Cloud, an organizer of Emerald Empire Hempfest in Eugene, Ore., worries that mom-and-pop artisans would get squeezed out if marijuana and its accoutrements went legit. "That's a factory-produced tie-dye sheet," he said, pointing to a purple-and-red-banded cloth draped over a table where he and his buddies were selling buttons, hand-dyed T-shirts and PVC bongs as a fundraiser for their festival. "They just pump them out, and the quality suffers."
Jan Earl of Tumwater paddled his aluminum canoe from Magnolia to avoid parking headaches.
"I came here for the party," he said, frying burgers on a crepe pan perched atop a tiny propane camp stove. But he also believes marijuana should be legalized — as a way to increase tax revenues and help pay down the national debt.
Today at the festival, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper is scheduled to call for an end to what he says is a futile and costly war on drugs. Stamper advocates legalization and regulation of not just pot, but heroin, cocaine and all other street drugs. Legality could douse Hempfest's cool vibe, said Stroup. But the sheer numbers of Americans who use pot — 27 million in the past year alone, according to government estimates, Stroup said — should keep the event afloat. "It's not going to go away," he said, "even if it loses a little of its luster."