Seattle Hempfest® Struggles To Survive

By Keith Mansur

Oregon Cannabis Connection


July 21, 2016 –
Seattle Hempfest® is struggling to stay afloat. Now in its 25th year, the iconic, and free, three-day party on Seattle’s waterfront draws crowds of well over 100,000. But thanks to a number of complicated factors, including bad weather last year, changing laws, competition, and attendees who aren’t donating enough to the cause, the world’s largest and most widely known celebration of cannabis might not be back in 2017.

Seattle Hempfest Struggles To Survive
Vivian McPeak speaking at Hempfest. Image: Cannabis Culture

Vivian McPeak, the event founder and organizer, explained to Oregon Cannabis Connection (OCC), “First of all, it rained on us last year so hard that nothing happened at all on Friday; there was no Hempfest that day.”

“But the dynamics are much deeper than that,” he told us. “Our state legislature destroyed medical marijuana this year … it’s over, it’s toast.”

“All the medical dispensaries are gone and that was a gigantic portion of our advertising and sponsorship base,” McPeak explained further. “The state legislature also passed bill 5052 so that a 502 licensee cannot advertise 1,000 feet from a park or public property. Well, we are in a park and on public property.”

The legislature finally parsed out the language and determined that advertisers could have a logo or their name in an advertisement, but that’s it. There can be no mention of products, services, prices or anything an advertiser would usually want to mention.

“That’s making it really, really hard on us, man,” McPeak said. “Hempfest costs about $850,000 this year and we get under a dollar per attendee for the weekend in our donation bins, so it’s always been extremely complicated raising almost a million dollars for a free event.”

Seattle Hempfest Struggles To Survive
Seattle Hempfest at 4:20. Image: Greg Shaw from

There are many costs involved in a event like this. Permit fees alone are  $30,000. They have to fence the parks, provide porta-potties, security, sound, stages, pay bands, and on and on. They piece together revenues from a number of sources to garner enough revenue to avoid a shortfall in funding.

“If we could just get five bucks per person on the weekend, we would be set, but that’s not been happening,” McPeak told OCC. “We make our revenue primarily from vendor sales, sponsorships, contributions, memberships, web ads, program ads, merchandising and fundraising events—everything we can possibly think of.”

This is a free speech event in a public park, and in Washington they are not allowed to charge admission.

“If it’s not worth putting five bucks into the bin for three days of [celebration], then Hempfest is going to go away,” McPeak warned. “If they can’t get rid of you legally, then they are going to price you out of existence.”

Seattle Hempfest has  been fighting many forces over the years that do not want the festival held in the three Seattle waterfront parks: Centennial Park, Myrtle Edwards Park, and Olympic Sculpture Park. Many neighborhood groups, business associations, and some specific businesses, according to McPeak, “Simply hate us!”

“They’re all trying to get rid of Hempfest because of their perspective on it,” he explained with disappointment. “But, we are a community values-based organization.”

There is a 25-point platform you can read on their website,, which includes: de-scheduling cannabis completely from the Federal Schedule/Controlled Substances Act, releasing of all non-violent cannabis offenders nationally, reparations in the form of expungement of all records relating to convictions for cannabis possession, parental rights/protections for cannabis users, second amendment equality protections for cannabis users

Seattle Hempfest Struggles To Survive
Long lines are not uncommon to gain entrance due to bag inspections, but people happily wait! Image: Greg Shaw from

, and a number of other vital and necessary reforms.

More recently, a new threat has emerged: competition.

There are festivals and conferences happening every week throughout the country. From Canna-Con to THC Fair, and many others, a lot of things are happening in cannabis, with much of them focused on the legal market.

“All of the sudden, competition everywhere, and a lot of them are profit model events … just get in and get out,” He explained. “Last year Canna-Con happened in Tacoma on the same weekend as Hempfest, and we bussed people to and from their event to our event!”

“We still feel that we are very viable as a political, first amendment protest rally,” McPeak said, hopefully.

To donate, visit the Seattle Hempfest®

The festival runs August 19, 20, and 21 in Seattle’s waterfront parks. They feature over 120 bands, 400 vendors, and more hemp and cannabis speakers and forums in one place than any other event. It’s the original Seattle Hempfest’s® 25th year! Don’t miss it, and this year, everyone DONATE!

© 2016 Oregon Cannabis Connection. All rights reserved.

Article Main Image – Aerial From Stage…Image: LT

[adrotate banner=”11″]


Keith Mansur

Keith Mansur is the founder, publisher, and editor of Oregon Cannabis Connection newspaper. The print publication has been serving Oregon since 2010. He has been a Oregon medical marijuana patient, grower, and caregiver since 2006. Find him on Facebook or email him at

keith_mansur has 340 posts and counting.See all posts by keith_mansur