Story Summary

Seattle’s annual Hempfest

Hempfest is an annual event in Seattle, the world’s largest annual gathering advocating decriminalization of marijuana. Founded in 1991 as the Washington Hemp Expo, a self-described “humble gathering of stoners” attended by only 500 people, and renamed the following year as Hempfest, it has grown into a 3-day annual political rally, concert, and arts and crafts fair with attendance typically over 250,000.

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By Jenny Deam

Los Angeles Times

SPRINGFIELD, Colo. — Out near a lonely highway southwest of town, a farmer’s son stuck some seeds in the ground last spring to see what would happen. What he pulled from the soil made history and has sown new hope for struggling farmers both here and across the nation.

Colorado farmers growing hemp

Ryan Loflin tends to a hemp plant at his farm in Crested Butte, Colo. (Aaron Ontiveroz / Denver Post / October 12, 2013

Last weekend, 41-year-old Ryan Loflin, a fifth-generation Coloradan, along with an enthusiastic crew of 45 volunteers, harvested what is being called the first U.S. crop of commercial hemp in more than half a century.

Hemp is the mild-mannered sister of marijuana, springing from the same tall, leafy plant family. Although it is often mistaken for its more potent sibling, hemp has only a tiny trace of the buzz-worthy chemical THC found in marijuana. Highly marketable, hemp’s seeds, roots, stalks, fibers and oil are used for products including soap, clothing and construction materials. A company in Boulder even sells hemp ice cream.

It grows easily here, needing less water in this flatland of drought and wind. Loflin’s father, John, has made his living coaxing corn, wheat and alfalfa from the soil since the 1950s. Over the years he has watched the hard life take its toll as storefronts shuttered on Main Street and families moved away. The population here is about 1,500, down nearly 1,000 from a generation ago.

“This could be the miracle crop we have been waiting for,” the elder Loflin says.

There is just this one pesky problem: Like marijuana, hemp is illegal. At least so says the federal government.

“According to the Controlled Substances Act, there is no differentiation between marijuana and hemp,” says Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, D.C. She says the federal law banning the two plants has been on the books since it was signed by President Nixon in 1970.

Last year things got tricky. Colorado, along with Washington state, legalized recreational marijuana. When a state law conflicts with a federal law, the feds win. But in the case of small-scale marijuana use, federal authorities have been advised to back off, letting local jurisdictions handle the issue through regulation, according to a recent Justice Department memo.

Hemp was legalized under Colorado’s Amendment 64, but more as an afterthought, says Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a national advocacy group. State lawmakers were directed to come up with a plan to regulate hemp farming, and that authority was given to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

“It should not be treated like a drug, it should be treated like corn,” says state Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat and chair of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

For years hemp was widely grown in this country, even promoted by the government during World War II. But it eventually fell out of favor, and the last known commercial harvest was in Wisconsin in 1957.

Colorado’s rules for hemp farming are still being determined and will not go into effect until next year.

Ryan Loflin knows he jumped the gun with his harvest but is unapologetic. “I like to be first,” he says. “Someone needs to take this ball and run.”

The father of two has never been arrested in his life, and searches for a family-friendly adjective for the federal law equating marijuana with hemp. He settles on “comical.”

After Amendment 64 passed, he thought of his father’s struggle, knowing hemp could potentially bring three times the profit of wheat. The big problem was — and is — getting hold of the seeds, which are illegal in this country. He is vague about how he was able to smuggle 1,500 pounds of hemp seed from Canada, Europe and China.

Last year he grew about 50 seedlings at his home in Crested Butte. He transplanted them as well as sowing the rest of his seeds on a 60-acre plot in Springfield leased from his father.

As fall approached, Loflin considered harvesting the inaugural crop with a combine but quickly found the machinery chewed up too much of the plant. He decided to go old-fashioned and pick by hand. He put out the word on Twitter and Facebook, and help arrived.

Kay Cee Carson came because she had known Loflin since kindergarten and wanted to be part of what she considers a new national movement. She’s still got the blisters. Matt McClain and three others drove 18 hours straight from Los Angeles and camped in tents near the field. His company is launching a hemp clothing line that gets its material from overseas.

“I’m almost 64 years old with a bad back, but I got out there and picked too,” says John Loflin. But both father and son admit they are in a trial-and-error phase because no one really knows how to grow hemp anymore in this country.

Today, the harvested hemp sits in a waist-high pile inside a steel barn. The younger Loflin says it is already spoken for by companies wanting to buy it all, root to stem. He is keeping the seeds for next year, hoping to triple his crop. His father fields calls from farmers in their 70s from across the county who thank him, saying they have wanted to plant hemp for years but never had the nerve.

Of course, not everyone is sold. Mayor Dusty Turner worries that his town’s growing fame comes at too high a price.

“I don’t want to be on the map for anything illegal. Maybe this is the cash crop farmers need. We want economic growth, we want families to move back. It’s just we want to make sure when it does happen it’s legal.”

John Loflin’s 94-year-old mother was worried too, but about the pickers smoking the yield.

“Mom, you don’t smoke hemp,” John remembers telling her.

“Oh,” she replied. “Well, then I hope Ryan gets rich.”

“Yeah, me too,” he said. “Me too.”


(Photo: Seattle Police Dept.)

SEATTLE — Police may have looked the other way as Hempfest folks smoked marijuana — but a guy nearby trying to sell $3 Rice Krispies Treats with “a little” pot in them got a $513 fine.

The Seattle Police Department’s online crime blotter said that at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, bike patrol officers were riding around the streets outside Hempfest, making sure street venders had the proper permits, when they came upon the man sitting in a chair selling his “crispy” treats.

“When officers asked the man if the treats were laced with marijuana, he told them they contained ‘a little. Not too much, but a little.’

“And, of course, the man didn’t have any licenses for his roadside snack shop,” the blotter said.

Cops wrote the man a $513 ticket for unlicensed vending and seized “his stash — 94 Rice Krispy squares,” the blotter said, adding that the officers destroyed them.

SEATTLE — Day one of Hempfest 2013 is in full swing along Elliott Bay in Seattle.

smokerAnd now that recreational pot is legal, they really have something to celebrate.

Organizers are treating this year as a sort of victory lap. For the first time in more than two decades, Hempfest attendees are legally allowed to carry up to an ounce of pot.

Every year thousands of hemp-heads descend on Myrtle Edwards Park. If you’re not sure where that is, just look for the smoke.

More than a quarter-million people are expected at the three-day event called the largest “protestival” in the country.

Executive director Vivian McPeak says the next fight is focused on ending the federal prohibition of pot.

“It’s very surreal to be at this point,” said McPeak. “It’s beautiful to see that America always gets it right. We make mistakes, we stumble, but America always seems to get things right and bring equality and social justice to the forefront – i don’t think it’s going to be any different with this issue.”

Then there’s Don Skakie, who says Washington state’s marijuana legalization measure, I-502, doesn’t go far enough.

“If I can buy it in a store, I should be able to grow it and give it away,” said Skakie. “The problem is it doesn’t allow for someone to provide for themselves. And the lack of that is going to create an economic hardship for a lot of people.”

Seattle police are out in force – reminding Hempfest-ers that smoking dope in public is still illegal.

And while there’s a lot of smoking going on out here, there’s not going to be any pot for sale.

“This is not a free for all, we’re in a public park,” said McPeak. “There can’t be any distribution of any kind; we’re going to be enforcing that.”

The festival cost $800,000 to put on this year and organizers count on donations but they admit folks aren’t paying their fair share.

As for the famous Seattle Police Department’s Doritos giveaway, that doesn’t start until 10 a.m. Saturday. So the smokers will just have to buy their own munchies until then.

Hempfest wraps up at 8 p.m. Sunday.

SEATTLE — The state Liquor Control Board voted Wednesday to delay implementation of legal marijuana for two months.  The reaction was positive from nearly everyone with a stake in the upcoming pot market, even if it pushes back the date that new stores will open until sometime in 2014.

potrules2“It’s a good thing they are delaying at this point,” said Alison Holcomb, leader of last year’s Initiative 502, the marijuana legalization measure.  “There are a few things that they hadn’t addressed in the proposed rules, and I’m glad they are taking the time to take a look at those.”

Holcomb said that the draft rules are too vague and that the Liquor Control Board still needs to decide on some major issues before stores can start opening, especially since a study shows that pot use in Washington is much higher than was first assumed.

“If it turns out, as it has, that the amount of marijuana that we are using is double, that means we need more producers and more retail outlets to make sure we have enough supply” said Holcomb.

The current rules, she says, are also silent on size.

“A retail outlet needs to know, are you going to keep super small like a convenience store?  Am I going to be the size of a grocery store?  Am I going to be the size of Costco?  All of these questions need to be answered for people to be able to fill out their applications for a license.”


Alison Holcomb was the leader of last year’s Initiative 502.

Down at the Hempfest setup Wednesday, there was similar praise for the Liquor Control Board’s pause.

“I would rather have it done right than done quickly,” said John Davis, board chairman of this weekend’s event.

Davis is especially looking for clarity on just how far retail shops can be from sensitive areas such as schools and libraries.  The initiative states 1,000 feet, but even that is open to interpretation.

“They need to know, 1,000 foot from what?  And how is that 1,000 foot calculated?  Is it property line to property line?” asked Davis.

Holcomb noted that there are lots of “eyeballs” on Washington as the state moves toward legalized pot.  She believe that clearer rules will help show the rest of the country – and even world – that pot legalization can work.

“It’s incredibly important that the Liquor Control Board gets this right.  Because a huge mistake means other people are people are probably not going to be willing to follow,” she said.

The new rules are now expected to be adopted in November, instead of September, which means stores licenses won’t be issued until sometime next year

Local News

Seattle decides on pot zones

SEATTLE — Members of the Seattle City Council will discuss new legislation that would limit where marijuana can be grown, processed and sold when state rules go into effect next year.

Washington state voters made marijuana legal when they passed I-502, and the state liquor control board will oversee how the drug is grown and sold.

Seattle is coming up with new zoning for a businesses that are the first of there kind in the country. marijuana-plants-image

Council members will discuss the issue Wednesday, and the Council’s Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee will likely vote in favor of the new zoning rules, which will only allow pot businesses in a few pockets around the city.

SEATTLE — Mayor Mike McGinn said Wednesday the city will issue a permit for Hempfest this year despite a request by the Downtown Seattle Association that city leaders deny it a permit at Myrtle Edwards Park and instead move the growing event to another location.

hempThe big pot celebration is held every summer in Myrtle Edwards Park along Seattle’s waterfront.

This year it’s expected to be even bigger after the state`s marijuana legalization vote last fall.  And that`s got some people concerned.

The Downtown Seattle Association is now saying that enough is enough.  The group argues that Hempfest has gotten out of hand, given that it now attracts more than a quarter-million people.

“This festival has outgrown the current venue.  As a result of these significant concerns, we ask that the city not approve a Myrtle Edwards Park permit for Hempfest, and that a larger venue be identified which is more appropriate for an event of this size and duration,” the association said in a statement.

The DSA contends that Hempfest hurts businesses and residents in the area, and the only way its business members will support it is if attendance is severely limited, and if the event is shortened to one day.

Hempfest, as you can imagine, is fighting back.  They argue that an event that spans three days actually helps limit the crowd on any one day, and that all those people are good for business since they eat and drink at area restaurants, coffee shops and other stores in the area.

In an interview with Q13 FOX News Wednesday, McGinn was asked if the city would issue a permit for Hempfest this year.

“We always do,” McGinn replied. “So we’re working with the organizers right now, local businesses, the community.  And it’s getting bigger and bigger so there’s challenges to making sure it’s a well-run event. But we’re working on that.”

Asked if the festival would be held at Myrtle Edwards Park, McGinn said, “That’s where it’s been and that’s where it will be this year.”