Hempfest 2000 heavy on toke-lore

All along Seattle's waterfront at Myrtle Edwards Park yesterday, thousands of people crowded around displays, listened to bands and speeches, and bought items from hundreds of booths - something that happens at community fairs all over the Puget Sound area all summer.

But this one was different.

Although the event may have resembled the Bellevue Art Museum Fair in crowd size, the intent was something else.

This was Hempfest 2000, a day dedicated to celebrating and changing the way a common substance in the United States is treated. The substance is marijuana, a form of hemp, and the festival's message was repeated in a thousand ways, from T-shirts to bumper stickers.

"Just be glad I'm not your kid," said one T-shirt.

"Rehab is for quitters," said another.

"Thank you for pot smoking," said another.

There's little question it was a popular message.

Hempfest organizers predicted 90,000 people would attend. Admission was free, so there were no tickets to count, but many thousands of people thronged the waterfront from Pier 70 north to the grain elevators.

On the festival grounds, bodies flowed endlessly past booths and bands, from displays of hemp products such as jackets and sandals to colorful glass pipes that have only one purpose.

There was nothing subtle about why many in the crowd had gathered.

"This is what Hempfest does. It's a day for us to come together and say, `Yeah, brother, I smoke pot,' " said one young man wearing a Hempfest staff T-shirt as he spoke to the crowds. Everyone cheered.

But festival organizers said they were emphasizing the legalization of hemp, a plant related to marijuana that contains less than one percent of its mind-altering chemical.

"My thing is saving our planet. . . . If we don't stop using trees we aren't going to be breathing much longer," said volunteer Jueles Scott with the Hemp Coalition.

"We're not a bunch of hippie freaks who want to sit around and smoke pot all the time. It's about American rights."

Meanwhile, Keith Stroup, founder and executive director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said, "Marijuana smokers are simply average people who happen to smoke marijuana.

"They don't want to be treated as criminals. We need a policy that distinguishes between use and abuse."

It's unknown, of course, whether events such as Hempfest, now in its ninth year, will succeed in changing national policies, and the event seemed as much a chance to enjoy a nice afternoon.

Allan Erickson, 48, and his wife, Darcy, 29, had come with their children from Eugene for their first visit to Seattle's Hempfest, mainly because they'd been told that it attracted more than 50,000 people, twice as many as similar events they'd attended in Oregon.

He said they brought their children, Robin, 8, and Alex, 7, partly with the hope of helping them make their own decisions.

"I think it already is changing," he said of the attitude toward marijuana use. "I don't want my kids growing up under prohibition."

The Ericksons also don't advocate that their children use marijuana, they said.

"I give them the same lectures they get in schools - not to use drugs," Darcy Erickson said.

When they get to be adults, they'll make their own choices, the Ericksons added.

Others said the festival just offered something interesting to do.

"I've been to a lot of them," said Emily McHugh, 22, who was attending with a friend, David Shiel, 24.

"We thought we'd check it out. There's a band here we wanted to hear. It's mostly for the music," she said, adding that she was "kind of split on the whole issue" of marijuana use.

"If people can use it responsibly, I don't see why not," McHugh said.

Part of the point of Hempfest was to do things such as encourage voting, and Cindy Lamb was working the crowd with a clipboard with a "Gore 2000" sticker.

She joked that it seemed that as she moved farther from the center of the gathering, she saw fewer tie-dyed T-shirts.

"It's a good place," she said, adding that her goal is to keep "George W." from being elected.

Hempfest generated a lot of political interest, she said, "mostly Democrats."

No Republicans?

"Oh, maybe a couple," she said.

Peyton Whitely's phone message number is 206-464-2259. His e-mail address is pwhitely@seattletimes.com.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.