Hempfest, the world’s largest pro-pot rally that each summer draws hundreds of thousands to the Seattle waterfront, is getting an office and storefront in Lake City.
Event co-founder Vivian McPeak said the space in the Capo building at 12516 Lake City Way N.E. will mostly be offices used to coordinate the staff of roughly 100 people. He said about a third of the space will be used to sell hemp clothing, posters, patches, glass art, trinkets and other Hempfest items.
“The whole thing is surreal,” said McPeak, who is also a seattlepi.com reader blogger. “We never dreamed 20 years ago that it would be like this. We figured it’s a good milestone.”
While the store won’t dispense medical marijuana, at least four dispensaries have opened in Lake City and nearby Maple Leaf in the last six months – a trend that some neighbors worry could hurt the neighborhood also known for several strip clubs and a problem with street drunks.
A glass shop, Piece of Mind, is about a block from where the Hempfest group plans to start work. The office and online store are expected to be run from the Lake City space beginning in early May with the retail store opening in September.
“We’ve got a 20-year track record of being responsible and having community values,” McPeak said when asked about some neighbors’ concerns.
“We really care about the impact we have on our community.”
The office is planned as the headquarters for Seattle, Events, A Non Profit Corporation – the name of the group that produces Hempfest.
This year’s festival is Aug. 17-19. The non-profit group gets money primarily from vendors at the Hempfest event, but also has memberships and sells event merchandise online.
State archives records show the Capo building that is to become the Hempfest business office and storefront was built in 1947 and for years was home to The Cove restaurant. In the 1980s, after the building went through a major remodel, the site was home to Seattle Athletic and Exercise, and it recently was home to Washington Mortgage Consultants.
While the spot has been vacant for months, people waiting at a nearby bus stop have loitered in the doorway and created some neighborhood concern.
“We’re going to clean the place up,” McPeak said, noting graffiti etched on each window. “We know we really have to work to impress folks because of this weird stereotype.”
In 1987, McPeak formed the Seattle Peace Heathens Community Action Group, which ultimately grew to form the Hempfest organizing crew. The group organized a Gas Works Park peace vigil in 1990 protesting the Gulf War and drug advocate Timothy Leary was among the visitors during the six months it lasted. The protesters sang, meditated and one day invited a speaker from a marijuana law reform group.
That evolved into the Washington Hemp Expo in spring 1991, drawing about 500 people to Volunteer Park. Attendance quadrupled the following year when it took the name Hempfest, and jumped to 5,000 people in 1993 — a year that featured blatant marijuana smoking in the “Bong-a-Thon,” but didn’t come with major repercussions from police.
About 60 people were cited for illegal marijuana use at the 1997 Hempfest. The event became a two-day event in 2001. It’s now a three-day event that draws roughly 300,000 to Myrtle Edwards Park, and though many people smoke marijuana there, citations are especially rare. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn was among the many speakers at last year’s Hempfest.
A month after the 2003 Hempfest, Seattle voters passed an initiative making the investigation, arrest and prosecution of marijuana offenses, when the drug was intended for adult personal use, the lowest law enforcement priority.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Washington since 1998.