Story and Photos by Kyle Kushman

Nearly 200,000 people came out to represent the cannabis community at the 13th Annual Hempfest, held August 16 and 17, 2003 in Seattle, Washington. Hempfest boasted a dedicated core staff of 300 who worked all year long to make it possible. In addition, nearly 1,000 volunteers signed up to work in shifts, doing everything from stage crew to first aid to security. Located by Seattle’s waterfront and the serene Puget Sound, this grand venue included six stages for speakers and live music, more than a hundred booths sponsored by private and civic organizations, plus some of the best crafts and food vendors of any festival
Smiling faces of all ages and races convened on beautiful Myrtle Edwards Park at Pier 70 in downtown Seattle. It’s a narrow park nearly a mile long, with grass down the center, dotted by several rock formations. Trees and winding walkways hug the waterline to help create an ideal setting. Seattle makes this feel like a celebration rather than a protest—everyone who attends, not just the speakers, goes home with the feeling that they’ve stood up for themselves.

The 48 hours of Hempfest brought weather as clear as the motivation for the event: reform of the US drug laws. The government must stop arresting responsible marijuana users. Patients need their medical marijuana. We need hemp for fuel. These issues are essential to rebuilding our economy and helping to stabilize the damage being done to our environment, not to mention our human rights.

One can’t help but notice that Hempfest is a profusion of people and lifestyles. This alone testifies to the level of acceptance that runs throughout the cannabis community. Here you can meet and talk with cannabiphiles from every walk of life. I spoke with laborers and lawyers, parents and poets, musicians and madmen. Dominick Holden, the director of Hempfest, noted: "considering [our] bloodthirsty federal administration, the cannabis community comes together in fine style."

There were so many choices for gear and food that even with two days I couldn’t visit them all. Of course, each booth had a slogan and Website making it easy to remember and contact them. asks you to "choose a living Earth." wants everyone to "stand up for your equal rights." The motto for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition: "Cops say legalize drugs." is working toward improving the 41 percent vote for decriminalization from the last time Alaskans voted. Also present were Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) and, led by tireless fighter John Sajo, who in 1998 helped win the right for Oregonians to use medical marijuana. He’s now fighting to eliminate the needless busts still occurring across the state. The HempCar always stops at Hempfest on its tour across North America, it runs solely on pure hemp oil!

An annual Mecca for civic groups who organize never-ending salvos to fix cannabis laws, Hempfest’s hot initiative this year was I-75. Voting yes would make personal use of marijuana by adults the lowest law enforcement priority in Seattle. Dan Solano represented and spoke on behalf of Police Officers for Drug Law Reform. On the main stage Woody Harrelson addressed the crowd on the need for hemp fuel.

Later, Woody visited the HIGH TIMES suite at the Edgewater Hotel, where the discussion about legalization continued. "Progressive mentality is much more mainstream than most folks think. It’s great to be reminded that there are so many like-minded folks out there." NORML founder Keith Stroup agrees with Woody, "This is the world’s most out-front pro-pot rally…all of the stages have 10-foot-high marijuana leaves. The Seattle Hempfest is the ultimate expression of NORML's drive to get consumers to come out of the closet. [It] shows the strength of numbers; the city is amazingly tolerant and forgiving. We can learn a lot from pot smokers in Washington State."

Our Edgewater Hotel suite is standing-room only, filled with hempsters and notables, all positive that efforts are gaining ground and respect. Staying at the hotel has become a HIGH TIMES tradition. Not only is the food top-notch, so are the accommodations and staff. This hotel is so user-friendly even the bathroom soap is fortified with crushed hemp seed exfoliant.

Seattle’s Hempfest has left me feeling that we must be getting close. The sheer openness and number of people who share our mindset fills me with positive vibes. It’s a major pilgrimage—when you look around you realize that nearly everyone involved in the movement to legalize marijuana is there. If, like me, you are sick of being treated as a criminal, you’ll plan your trip and help rock next year’s festival.

As I was leaving Seattle, listening to the FM99.9 KISW on the radio, I hear "It’s Hempfest weekend and it’s 4:20 pm, so we’re gonna fire it up twice!"