By Gene Johnson and Manuel Valdes Associated Press
SEATTLE — Crowds of people bundled in winter coats celebrated the anniversary of marijuana legalization in Washington state Friday by sparking up at a city-sanctioned party under Seattle’s Space Needle.
Marijuana activist Ben Livingston said it took him three months to persuade city officials to grant him a permit for the party marking the anniversary of the day the legal pot law took effect. It was supposed to begin at 4:20 p.m., with a line of people streaming into a big tent that quickly filled with a marijuana haze.
Partygoers wished each other a happy anniversary and chanted, “Thank you, Washington!”
Jay Zozh, who moved to the state less than a month ago, marveled as the crowd passed around a footlong joint.
“If we were all in Texas, we’d be arrested and charged with felonies,” he said.
The free event, capacity 999, was set up behind a double perimeter fence at the Seattle Center, with the pot smoking blocked from public view. Hundreds were expected to attend throughout the event.
“I want to make the point that cannabis consumers are good people, and we should be treated equally with other people when trying to utilize city facilities,” Livingston said.
The party was being held near KeyArena, where Pearl Jam was ending a North American tour, and Livingston extended an open invitation to the band’s fans to swing by on their way to or from the show.
The Winterfest holiday lighting celebration, a Pacific Northwest Ballet performance of “The Nutcracker,” and a Seattle Children’s Theatre staging of “James and the Giant Peach” were also taking place Friday night at the Seattle Center campus.
Those events didn’t jibe so well with a big pot party, according to some drug abuse prevention groups. Nine people sent a letter to the Seattle Center, the City Council and the mayor, asking the event be canceled. Among the signatories were Dr. Leslie R. Walker, chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Derek Franklin, president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention.
“Seattle Center is a poor location for the party considering it takes place during Winterfest, a family-friendly event, and among popular venues that cater to children and their families,” the letter said.
Livingston responded by noting that the family-friendly Winterfest has a beer tent, which no one protested.
Seattle Center spokeswoman Deborah Daoust said the pot party was permitted by the city, and it’s the center’s role to help ensure it’s a success.
The party featured several informational vendors who helped to offset the party’s estimated $11,000 cost, but Livingston hoped to recoup the rest of the balance through poster sales and donations.