My Seattle Hempfest

Magical Butter was one of the many companies who promoted their products at Hempfest. (Doug McVay)

Hempfest is an outdoor concert and celebration as well as a rally, with row upon row of vendors selling food and water, glassware, books, clothes and more. There are also booths promoting businesses like medical cannabis clinics, dispensaries and magazines, as well as nonprofits working to reform drug policies. Thousands of people pour into the park each day. Lots of attendees dress to impress, or possibly to intrigue.

The venue is so big, with so much going on, it's like a small town. Hempfest is run by a huge volunteer crew organized by a core staff. This labor of love costs hundreds of thousands to put on each year. The vendors pay for their booths, which helps defray the costs, and the rest of the revenue comes from sale of souvenir items like t-shirts and caps at the Hempfest Central store in Seattle, and from donations. Unfortunately, while successful reform isn't cheap, some of the people who should support those efforts are: A banner outside the Hempfest Operations Center reveals that, on average, Hempfest gets only about 28 cents per attendee in donations.

I-502 passed in November, so adult cannabis use is technically legal, but underage use and use in public are still not. The latter you wouldn't really know from attending Hempfest. Since there are still no social-use cannabis shops, there's no legal way to purchase pot (unless of course you're a patient shopping at a dispensary).

Police were present all over the Fest, not only handing out bags of Doritos, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves - though presumably not as much as other attendees. One officer, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, was even a speaker.

Hempfest is spread across several miles of city park (Myrtle Edwards and Centennial) along the waterfront in Seattle. Just looking at a map doesn't give you a real appreciation for how big the venue is. You have to walk it to really understand. I learned after my first Hempfest: Wear comfortable shoes and bring a water bottle.

Hemp panelists (left to right) David Piller, David Bronner, Adam Eidinger, Dave Seber and Steve Levine. (Doug McVay)

I pretty much stayed in one place on the first day of Hempfest (Aug. 16). This year was my first time officially MC-ing the Ric Smith Hemposium Stage and moderating panels, which I did on Friday. It was quite an honor to be asked. They gave me some of the best panels of the weekend, including Hash Oil Extraction, Women in the Weed Business, the Hemp panel and the Future of the Movement panel. The Speaker/VIP party Friday evening was held at the Hemposium as well.

The Seeley Stage at Hempfest featured speakers like Ben Livingston and bands throughout the three-day event. (Doug McVay)

On Saturday, I took the long walk north to speak at the Seeley Stage. In spite of the distance, I love the Seeley Stage: the bands are great, there's a spacious backstage area with excellent food and plenty of water (and several relatively clean porta-loos), and for the past few years that stage has also had a daily 4:20 celebration. I watched the 4:20 joint toss from the audience this year. Many, many clouds of smoke arose and filled the air around me; it actually got kind of foggy.

Sunday was a short day for me. I spoke at Main Stage at 11:45 am, then made my way to Hemposium to recharge my laptop and relax. I left the Fest in the early afternoon to find wifi, upload many many photos and other files, finish an audio report for the Drug Truth Network, and catch my train back to Portland.

I can hardly wait for next year. I'm definitely getting a pair of comfy quality insoles for the occasion.


Doug McVay

Doug McVay

Writer and KBOO radio host based in Portland, Ore. He's also editor of