Seattle Hemp Fest is the largest annual rally in the United States for the legalization of hemp/marijuana. In recent years, it has taken place on a mid-August weekend in Myrtle Edwards Park. Since 2003, it has been a 2-day event.
It was founded in 1991 as the "Washington Hemp Expo", held in Volunteer Park and attended by about 500 people. The '92 and '93 festivals were also held in Volunteer Park. The early festivals were straight-out celebrations of pot culture: the '92 festival, attended by 2,000, featured two sinsemilla plants on the stage.
The next year's festival, also a straight-out dopefest, drew 5,000, quite a large crowd for Volunteer Park. The '94 festival at Gas Works Park featured performances by 7 Year Bitch and El Steiner, and an attendance of 15,000.
Up to this point, Hempfest had been run very informally: no real security plans, vending a free-for-all, and quite a lot of drugs openly consumed. The city had, up until this time, chosen to ignore the event, keeping police away and allowing the free-for-all. Now that it had reached the point of national notoriety, traffic jams, etc., this became impossible. Even the organizers were pretty worried by the out-of-control mosh pit during the 7 Year Bitch performance. Difficult negotiations with the city resulted in a major transformation of the event: Hemp Fest '95 was the start of Hemp Fest as we know it now, more of a political rally, at Myrtle Edwards Park, with paid vendor booths, multiple stages, etc., and presenting speakers like Jack Herer, Chris Conrad, Dennis Peron, Bill Conde, and Elvy Musika. At least 25,000 attended the 1995 event; the city government was scared. Negotiations resumed, and took long enough that there was no 1996 fest. Behind the scenes, a very strong core group was forming, taking increasing responsibility for the event. Probably most prominent in the new core group was Vivian McPeak, now Hemp Fest's Executive Director.
25,000 braved intermittent downpours to attend Hempfest '97.
Since '97, Hemp Fest has gradually grown in size, and (while still presenting a lot of excellent music) has become more determinedly political in focus, emphasizing medical and industrial as well as recreational uses of hemp/marijuana and publicizing the plight of Drug War prisoners. Currently, it is a 2-day event, with attendance typically running 150,000–200,000. Relations with the city government are improved almost beyond belief: Hemp Fest is now considered by the city to be a "traditional" annual event that gets an expedited permit process; their processes have been held up as a model for other organizations wishing to hold large events in the parks.
- Seattle Hempfest History: 1991 - Present on the official site.