Seattle’s 22nd Annual Hempfest is this weekend, August 16-18. It is expected to draw huge crowds but this year may see a surge in those numbers due to Washington State’s passage of I-502 last fall. It is now legal for adults in Washington to use marijuana recreationally and possess up to an ounce. Seattle police have been told to adhere to the new law and not arrest casual users for possession. This is a tightrope walk for the SPD – and, indeed, all Washington state law enforcement officers – as the federal government still (stubbornly) insists that pot is a Schedule I narcotic. Marijuana arrests had been low on the SPD’s priority list since Initiative 75 was passed in 2003 but the whole issue had been a gray area for them. The passage of I-502 has cleared a lot of that up.
This is the first Hemp Fest since I-502, so the SPD decided that they would take advantage of the gathering – which draws about 250,000 people - to help clear up any questions about the new law. And what better way to do it than to print a FAQ on bags of Doritos? And what else to call it but “Operation Orange Fingers”?
“Seattle Police public affairs knew that we wanted to continue our education campaign regarding (legalizing marijuana initiative) I-502,” said SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb. “There’s still a lot of confusion in Seattle and the rest of the state about what’s allowed and what isn’t; what the rules are and what’s going to get you in trouble with the police. A brainstorming session came up with the idea of passing out Doritos to festival goers and on each little bag is going to be a label that gives people some basic information and directions back to our FAQ on I-502, ‘MarjiWhatNow’.”
The FAQ explains the new law, which is still not completely clear to many Washingtonians. It points out that unlicensed sales and driving under the influence are still illegal. Using marijuana outside the home will be treated much like alcohol and could result in a ticket, as with an open container. And, if cigarettes aren’t allowed in a place, then neither is pot. The FAQ also displays a sly sense of humor, featuring a video clip from The Lord of the Rings concerning “the finest weed.” SPD also sent out a Tweet on Thursday:
“Please ignore maliciously false reports that we’re giving out Bugles at @seattlehempfest. We would never, ever do that.”
That sense of humor is evident in the SPD’s passing out of the Doritos. The cost of $260 for 1,000 1-ounce bags is well worth both the information disseminated and the goodwill created. Says Whitcomb:
“We chose Doritos because they’re iconic as a delicious snack for people who might enjoy pot. The goal’s not to feed people and I know we’re going to run out but at the same time we want people to know what the rules are, respect the vote and follow the law.”
Public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Whitcomb says that the SPD are trying to make clear that minors imbibing, driving while high and distribution are still illegal, while acknowledging that the people of the state have spoken. They have not yet written a ticket for smoking in public but they figure they will at some point: they have been told not to be heavy-handed and they will first issue a warning. But since most SPD officers don’t want to enter the actual Hempfest area – they worry about testing positive due to second-hand smoke as they still can’t legally smoke off-duty – attendees can expect only warnings for smoking in public, unless they’re a minor. However, there will be no “task force” or “infiltration” of the gathering and Whitcomb doesn’t anticipate any problems. Except running out of Doritos.
“I’ve been assured that with this particular crowd, they won’t last long.”
Whitcomb will be at Myrtle Edwards Park on the waterfront Saturday morning, handing out the Nacho Cheese Doritos. If you want a bag, better get there early. Then stay for Whitcomb’s speech on the main stage at 2:50 PM. He says he did try to get the 4:20 spot but it was already taken. You gotta love a cop with a sense of humor.
Seattle’s KOMO News 4 reported live from the scene. Here’s the video: