Pubdate: Wed, 21 Aug 2002
Source: Queen Anne and Magnolia News (Seattle, WA)
Copyright: 2002 Queen Anne and Magnolia News
Author: Russ Zabel, News Reporter August 21, 2002


Hempfest 2002 Asks Pot Smokers To Admit Use, Calls For Legal Reform

Organizers of the annual Seattle Hempfest have been preaching to the choir 
about marijuana use since 1991, but this year, organizers want the choir to 
do some preaching of its own. Using the theme of "Pot Pride," Seattle 
Hempfest 2002 in Myrtle Edwards Park last weekend asked pot smokers to come 
out of the closet, proudly admit they use marijuana and demand to stop 
being treated as criminals. While it's modeled on Gay Pride and coming out 
sexually, Pot Pride is meant to serve a political purpose, according to 
Hempfest director Dominic Holden. Holden is also the campaign manager for 
Sensible Seattle, the sponsor of Initiative 75, an initiative which would 
make marijuana possession by adults the lowest law-enforcement priority in 
Seattle, and he hopes Pot Pride will drum up support for the measure. "For 
a long time, what's been holding this (decriminalization) movement back is 
a lack of visibility," he said. "So, by hosting the nation's largest 
drug-policy reform event, it's showing there are more and more smokers from 
all walks of life."

It's who you know Polls have shown that people are more likely to vote for 
decriminalization efforts if they know someone who uses marijuana, Holden 
added. Attendance at the two-day event in Myrtle Edwards Park was expected 
to top the 150,000 mark, he said. If just 100,000 of them went home 
afterward and told 20 people that they smoked grass, that would mean 2 
million new people would be willing to vote for decriminalization, Holden 
said. I-75 has already drawn a measure of political support.

Holden said the initiative has been endorsed by Queen Anne resident and 
State Sen. Jeanne Kohl- Welles, Seattle City Council members Nick Licata 
and Judy Nicastro and King County Councilman Larry Gossett. Holden also 
said the movement to decriminalize pot possession has gained bipartisan 
support on a national level. "Drug-policy reform is not a liberal or 
conservative issue," he added. Conservative voters are outraged that 
property is seized in drug cases, and they see the war on drugs as a misuse 
of big government, Holden said. On the flip side, liberal voters see the 
war on drugs as an encroachment on civil liberties, he said.

A big undertaking Hempfest 2002 included information booths, food, seven 
stages and dozens of bands who played for free. Hemp fashion, bongs, pipes 
and other crafts were for sale. The event was staffed by more than 1,000 
volunteers, said Holden, who added that it cost around $150,000 to stage 
the gathering. Sponsored by, among others, the National Organization for 
Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), High Times, The BUZZ 100.7 FM, the 
Seattle Weekly and American Music, Hempfest featured close to 60 speakers. 
Hempfest executive director Vivian McPeak was one of them and also acted as 
master of ceremonies much of the time. "We're here because of the drug 
war," he said. "The war is against us, the cannabis culture." Law 
enforcement officials say they want a drug-free America, McPeak said, but 
the pharmaceutical industry promotes a large number of legal prescription 
drugs such as Zoloft and Viagra, he added. "The drug war is a sham. Bring 
it down now."

Pot Pride McPeak also led a huge and enthusiastic crowd at the main stage 
in chanting, "I smoke pot, and I'm proud." Several people at the event also 
embraced the concept of Pot Pride by firing up pipes and joints in the 
waterfront park, and police made a handful of arrests during Hempfest. One 
panhandler around the corner from the entrance to Hempfest got into the 
spirit of the event Saturday with a sign that read, "Need cash for weed." 
Keith Stroup, founder and executive director of NORML, said between 18 and 
20 million people smoked grass last year in America. "The vast majority of 
them are good people who pay property tax," he said. "We are not criminals, 
and it's time we stop being treated as criminals." Stroup also said that 
more than 700,000 people are arrested each year for marijuana-related offenses.

The vast majority of them, 85 percent, were arrested for possession, he 
added. Stroup also objected to the government lumping grass in with hard 
drugs such as cocaine and heroine. "The American public knows the 
difference between marijuana and other drugs," he said.

Jailing pot smokers A recent Zagby poll showed that 61 percent of 
respondents oppose arresting and jailing pot smokers, according to Stroup. 
"It is time we stopped arresting smokers." Nora Callahan, director and 
founder of the November Coalition, also spoke at the rally.

She noted that much was said at the event about those who smoke grass, but 
equally important are those who are arrested and jailed for growing and 
selling pot. It's an issue that hits close to home for Callahan. "My 
brother is serving 27- 1/2 years in prison (for dealing grass)," she said, 
describing her brother and others like him as prisoners of war. "The war on 
drugs is a fraud," Callahan said. It's not a war on substance abuse, she 
added. "It's a war on the American people." Mikki Norris, who came up with 
the concept of Pot Pride, said she was sick of seeing good people getting 
locked up because of the war on drugs. "I'm also sick of hiding the fact 
that I use cannabis," Norris said. She said many people think pot smokers 
are losers who have no morals and are non-productive members of society. 
"You have to come out of the closet and show them they're wrong," Norris 
told the crowd. "We are just as good as everybody else." McPeak and Holden 
both said they think I-75 will pass, assuming enough signatures are 
gathered on initiative petitions.

As a city, Seattle can't change the legal status of marijuana, Holden 
conceded. "But we can decide how are tax dollars are spent and which crimes 
we feel are more important to focus on." He also sees the initiative having 
a potential impact beyond Seattle. "I-75 can be a springboard to 
decriminalize marijuana statewide," Holden said.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart