Thousands pack park for Seattle Hempfest

SEATTLE — Thousands of people streamed to the second day of Seattle Hempfest on Saturday, as festival-goers debated the merits of a Washington state ballot initiative to legalize marijuana.

People of all ages meandered along the waterfront park, stopping to buy Kettle popcorn, inspect glass bongs and pick up information about marijuana dispensaries. Parents pushed kids in strollers, couples lit up pipes on grassy lawns and vendors pitched vaporizers and other paraphernalia to eager patrons.

The three-day event is billed as the nation’s largest marijuana rally to end cannabis prohibition. It draws tens of thousands of visitors each day for music, speakers and food.

Taelor Wickham, of Spokane, said she doesn’t smoke pot, but was curious to check out the event for the first time. Her aunt offered to take her to Hempfest for her birthday. “It’s pretty cool,” she said, puffing on a cigarette while taking a break on a park bench.

This year’s 21st annual event comes as Washington, Oregon and Colorado have measures on the November ballot to legalize marijuana. Washington’s measure, Initiative 502, would allow sales of up to an ounce of dried marijuana at state-licensed stores.

The measure has drawn opposition from the medical cannabis community, partly because of the licensing requirements. Others say the initiative doesn’t go far enough. Others are concerned about the measure’s strict driving-under-the-influence provisions.

Toni Snyder has volunteered for the event for years, and enjoys the people-watching experience. She wore a “No on I-502” button. “I don’t like the idea that they can pull me over to test me,” she said. “I think they can do better.”

Proponents say the measure would prevent nearly 10,000 marijuana possession arrests every year in Washington.

Shaun Landy, of Tacoma, said he worries that I-502 could hurt “the little guys” but he thinks too much tax dollars are spent on keeping people in jail over pot possession.

“There are pros and cons that you have to weigh,” he said. “I think it will be more beneficial to everybody if it is passed.”

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