By Jeremiah Vandermeer, Cannabis Culture – Tuesday, March 22 2011
CANNABIS CULTURE – After filing a lawsuit against the city of Seattle and successfully negotiating with local officials, organizers of Seattle Hempfest announced today that their 20th anniversary event will take place at its originally planned location at Myrtle Edwards Park from August 19 – 21, 2011.
“Last Friday the mayor signed a memorandum of understanding that Hempfest would go on in Myrtle Edwards Park and we would have three days this year,” Seattle Hempfest organizer Vivian McPeak told Cannabis Culture. “We took a real but calculated risk and we got lucky.”
Seattle Hempfest, thought to be the largest marijuana-related event in the world with over 300,000 people in attendance, has spent most of its 20-year history at the same location on the Seattle waterfront, which now stretches about 1.3 miles along the city coast. This year, activists were shocked to find that the city had planned the construction of a footbridge overpass at the same time as the festival, effectively blocking the event.
After searching for another adequate venue to no avail, organizers felt they had no choice but to take the city to court. After the lawsuit was filed, the city started co-operating.
“We met with the mayor’s representatives two months ago and we devise an agreement that we would back off pursuing the lawsuit if the city would allow an alternative bid process,” McPeak told CC.
The city agreed to hear bids to construct the footbridge at a later date, and one of the contractors proposed a lower bid – a million dollars lower. This effectively left city officials with no choice but to change the date of construction and allow Hempfest its original date and venue.
“It’s been a long, stressful, demanding period here for us,” McPeak told CC. “It’s been very difficult to figure out what was the right path. So it feels incredibly good to be on the other side of this and be victorious.”
As an added bonus, the city approved an extra day for the festival, making it a three-day cannabis celebration.
“It’s a whole another day of getting our message out,” McPeak said. “More speakers and more bands we don’t have to turn away, and potentially a little more revenue.”
Seattle Hempfest has an estimated budget of $200,000 and is organized and operated by hundreds of hard-working activists. The event is now in its 20th year.
“We’re overjoyed that we can go back to preparing a world-class 20th anniversary Hempfest,” McPeak wrote in a press release today. “The Pacific Northwest is at an important turning point, and this will be the most important Hempfest to date.”
McPeak says that despite having filed a lawsuit against the city, recent events have actually improved Hempfest’s relationship with government officials. He also thinks the recent skirmish may have had less to do with stifling free speech, and more to do with dysfunctional bureaucracy.
“Were they out to destroy us or were they overwhelmed with a really difficult situation and a terrible budget crisis?” he question in his comments to CC. “As miffed as we were, we just tried hard to understand that there’s stuff going on at city government levels that’s beyond us and that were not privy to. Why always assume the worst? It’s really about going forward and being successful.”
Go to the Seattle Hempfest website for more information on the three-day festival.