7 Tips for Making the Most of Seattle Hempfest

Published on August 17, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Seattle, USA - August 17, 2012: People at Hempfest in Myrtle Edwards Park on a sunny day checking out a psychedelic bus from Oregon called the Further

In case you hadn’t heard, Seattle Hempfest is the largest annual cannabis-advocacy gathering on the planet. Now in its 26th year, this beloved “protestival” draws a sprawling universe of activists, advocates, performing artists, politicians, and happy attendees to the Seattle waterfront for three days of pro-cannabis outreach, activism, music, mingling, marketing, and (God willing) sunshine.

This weekend brings Seattle Hempfest 2017 to the adjacent expanses of Myrtle Edwards and Centennial Parks, with festivities kicking off at noon on Friday and carrying on all weekend. Official hours: Friday noon-8 pm, Sat-Sun 10 am-8 pm. Official address: 3130 Alaskan Way W, Seattle, WA 98121. Official slogan: “When they go low, we go high”—a perfectly apt and inspirational rallying cry for this moment in history.

Being a free-of-charge cannabis festival held in a glorious outdoor locale, Hempfest is easy to enjoy. But here are a few strategic tips for making the most of it.

1. Don’t drive

A few years back, Seattle decided to encourage the use of public transit to the city center by making driving downtown miserable, and the Belltown/waterfront region hosting Hempfest is one of the most didactically awful areas for parking and turning and weird time-sensitive one-way streets. If you’re able, take light rail, get off at Westlake Center and walk the half-mile northwest to the Hempfest grounds. Also: There are Metro buses and Lyfts. (Bonus: No driving means yes highness.)

2. Enter via the Thomas Street overpass

The most naturally inviting of the Hempfest entrances is on Alaskan Way, by the Olympic Sculpture Park, and you must avoid it. Famous for its buzz-killing bottleneck, this “South Entrance” is forever packed with thousands of people who you will have to lightly jostle for 15 sweaty minutes before reaching the expansive park areas inside. For best results, enter via the Thomas Street Overpass, which accessible at 3rd Ave W and W Harrison St just west of Seattle Center, and which official Hempfest materials promise will be “line-free!” (Also, if you need ADA entry, aim for the popular South Entrance and go the front of the line, where you’ll find the ADA Entrance.)

3. Follow the rules and be conscientious

Hempfest’s official regulations: “No dogs, camping, alcohol, narcotics, fireworks, open flame, or unauthorized vending.” Does cannabis count as a narcotic? If so, it’s a legal one, at least in Washington State, but that still doesn’t mean it’s legal to light up in a city park. That said, authorities have typically been generous with Hempfest patrons, especially those tasteful enough to break the no-smoking rule in a relatively discreet manner.

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4. Pay full, start-to-finish attention to at least one speaker, panel, and/or band

It’s easy to wander through the Hempfest experience of vendors and crowds and music and speeches in a sort of slow-motion blur, during which you never stop moseying along. You must stop long enough to pay full attention to at least one Hempfest speaker or musical performer. The vast roster of speakers scheduled to take the Hempfest stage ranges from George Martorano, who served a 32-year sentence for cannabis, to Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and Hempfest founder Vivian McPeak. The expansive roster of panels range from “Cannabis Industry Leaders Share Their Advice” to “Saving Terminally Ill Children with Cannabis.” As for musical acts, they are many, and should be selected on the awesomeness of their names. (Frontrunners: Swamp Meat, the Queen Annes, She Thinks I’m Alex, Jesus Wears Armani, and It Gets Worse.)

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5. No impromptu edibles

Hempfest is a world of great generosity and that is wonderful. But if anyone offers you a cannabis-enhanced edible, do not take it. By which I mean do not eat it. You can take it and pocket it and figure out what to do with it later at home. But do not eat it at Hempfest, which is no place for a Maureen Dowd-style freakout. If you’re hungry, aim for something not spiked with cannabis.

6. Donate

Did I mention Hempfest is absolutely free to attend? It’s true! Still, Hempfest costs a good amount of money to produce, and rather than institute any sort of entrance fee—which would change the event’s classification and invite a world of new restrictions—Hempfest relies on supporters to help pay the bills. Plan ahead, visit an ATM, and have a $20 ready to toss into the donation bins near the entrance.

7. Pick up after your damn selves

Along with its various political and social aims, Hempfest is about visibility, and challenging the damaging misinformation about cannabis that continues to be spewed by the government. So let’s not provide any supporting evidence to the stereotype that stoners are easily distracted clods who are too busy questioning their hands to pick up after themselves. There’s nothing more depressing than morning-after photos showing how yesterday’s visionary rally for righteousness resulted in today’s acre of garbage. So pick up after yourself. Pick up after someone else even. Let’s freak people out with how fucking tidy we leave that park. It’ll be the birth of a new stoner stereotype: Tidy AF. Let’s make this happen.

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Dave Schmader
Dave Schmader
Dave Schmader is the author of the book "Weed: The User's Guide." Follow him on Twitter @davidschmader
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