Hempfest versus Hopfest

This past weekend, approximately 50,000 people converged upon Myrtle Edwards Park on Seattle’s waterfront for Seattle Hempfest. We all know what Hempfest celebrates. It is about smoking weed. For most attendees, that means smoking dope as a recreational hobby. Without spurring a debate, I just want to remind everyone that smoking spleef purely for leisure is still against the law. On the other hand, beer is legal.

It is what I call the Hempfest-Beerfest paradox.

I am not anti-Hempfest. Not at all. Do not accuse me of being anti-Hempfest. I am not. What I am is pro-beer fest. Sure, the legalization movement has a presence at Hempfest. Sure, the people who support using marijuana as medicine have a presence, but let’s be honest here: we all know why most people are at Hempfest. Why can the Rastafarians, stoners, hippies and hip-hopsters have a big festival in a city park and openly do something that is illegal while we hop-heads cannot have a similar festival to celebrate beer?

There are reasons. They are not good reasons, but there are reasons.

Them’s the Rules

First off, recognize the kind of festival I’m talking about. All-ages, family-friendly and whatever hyphenated adjective you like that suggest “not for grown-ups only.” For the sake of argument, I am talking about that kind of beer festival. For example, the Washington Brewers Festival, the big daddy brew fest held each year on Father’s Day weekend, which the Washington Beer Commission organizes and operates. I am talking about a festival that involves beer the same way Bumbershoot involves music, the Bite of Seattle involves food, or Hempfest involves weed.


Simply put, it is illegal to have that kind of beer festival at a city park. Since a city park is probably the only place big enough to have such an event in Seattle, end of conversation.

You can have a beer garden at a big event in a city park, but the big event cannot be a beer festival. Think about the beer gardens at Seattle’s biggest festivals. The beer garden is a fenced off, tightly controlled area for adults of legal drinking age only. That is how you can serve beer at a big festival in Seattle—quarantine the beer drinkers in a cage where they can enjoy their filthy little habit.

That is the law as I understand it. I recently talked to a Captain with the Seattle Police Department about the issue. Apparently, my understanding is sound.

From what I’ve heard, that is one of the main reasons the Washington Brewers Festival has always happened “out there” at some State Park or County Park and not in the city. The organizers want to allow kids at the Father’s Day brew fest.

The Washington Brewers Festival as we know it, or another festival like it, cannot happen at a Seattle City Parks facility. The city would have to change a law or grant some sort of an exception. I don’t know if the city would do that and I don’t know if anyone has ever asked.

There might be an easier route to beer freedom. If there were some way we could make our beer festival about free speech, then the City of Seattle must allow it.

The City of Seattle decided a long time ago that Hempfest is an expression of free speech. Because smoking weed is illegal, pot smokers have the right to assemble and peacefully rally for its legalization.

One festival is legal because it is illegal. The other is illegal because it is legal. Now that is a paradox.

What’s more, the Seattle Police Department provides free security services for Hempfest. Dozens of cops work Hempfest because the event is a recognized expression of free speech. The city does not get compensated for all that security. The city must provide security for the event. Not only is Hempfest allowed, it is protected.

One festival is legal because it is illegal. The other is illegal although it is legal. Now that is a paradox.

Sadly, beer is legal. Did I just say that? Therefore, we cannot have a beer festival that resembles Hempfest. Instead, we must shuffle off to the beer cage and drink within its typically unpleasant confines. It’s humiliating.

It Could Happen

Is it possible to get the city to play ball on this one? Maybe. We will never know unless someone asks.

If anyone could get it done, it would be the Washington Beer Commission. After all, it is the only official state commission of its kind in the entire country. Since the Commission is an official entity, charged by the state legislature with the task of promoting Washington beer as a commodity, I would like to think they have some influence. I would like to think that the city would not stand in the way of the Commission as they try to help the local beer industry grow and prosper.

Still, would the city allow it?

Truthfully, I cannot imagine it. I just don’t see the City of Seattle doing something so, I don’t know… something so logical. The City’s default answer to anything these days seems to be “No, we can’t do that.” Logic be damned.

If we want to have the kind of beer festival I’m talking about, we need to figure out a way to make it about free speech or equal rights. In some regards, I actually do feel discriminated against when the law requires me to willingly enter a cage to drink beer. What are we? Animals in a zoo? We could call ourselves People for the Ethical Treatment of Beer Drinkers, but that makes for an ugly acronym. Beer for Urban Recreational Purposes?

Beer Enthusiasts for Equal Rights? Now that’s got a ring to it.


  1. I’ve never been to HempFest (though I’ve gotten caught up in their crowds downtown), but the idea of 50,000 people drunk is a LOT less appealing to me than the idea of 50,000 folks zoning out to some tunes.

  2. As long as people think of beer as alcohol, rather than food, then it will always be treated as something that has to be controlled and regulated to save us from ourselves.

  3. As long as people think of beer as an alcoholic beverage, rather than food, then it will always be treated as something that has to be controlled and regulated to save us from ourselves.

    It would be nice if people could remember that the rise of Western civilization depended on beer, otherwise we’d still be living in wattle and dab shelters thanks to Cholera and Typhus.

  4. beer has alcohol in it :- )

    on average you are talking about craft beer being in the category of 5-9%, that is not bud light, people do get drunk on a couple of beers

    if you were selling beer that had 1%, then maybe you could get away with it

    alcohol impairs the brain way more then weed, people drive actually slower and more careful on weed, than on alcohol and that is a fact!

  5. Drool: not everyone is a seasoned drinker, and that’s how you would have to think about a Beer Fest, you have to think in averages, the common denominator and not the people who been brewing and drinking for 25 years

    who knows, maybe one day!

    I would Welcome it; just trying to be realistic! Cheers!

  6. In my years selling craft beer, I rarely see craft beer drinker drinking to stupidity. It is usually the Bud drinkers that get trashed and give us all a bad rep. Besides service can always control how much people are over drinking. I think Kendall is right.

  7. do you have any numbers as to how many people attend the big beer fest in Portland, OR? you know they allow kids, you get carded and get a hospital style wrist band. Has anyone ever asked the city of Seattle? It would be awesome to have a big beerfest at Mrytle Edwards.

  8. By your definition, I guess the Seattle International Beerfest http://www.seattlebeerfest.com doesn’t count because kids aren’t allowed. But that beer festival seems pretty real to me and has been happening for years now.

    Also, it’s not like people are going to Hempfest and officially buying weed from the festival creators. Sure, you can find some kids smoking on the beach and can ask them for a bowl, but that’s still a very different thing.

  9. I suspect the issue is that Hempfest, despite being about something that is illegal, is construed in this crazy state as a “political statement” which therefor can’t be limited by the city. Since beer is legal, and there is no political controversy regarding the production or consumption of our favorite adult drink, we aren’t engaged in political speech. What we need to do is create a political statement as part of the beerfest – perhaps we could do a nudist beer brewers festival? Maybe then it would be OK?

  10. I never contended that vendors were selling weed at Hempfest. I hope you don’t intend to make it sound like smoking weed is uncommon at Hempfest. That’s like me contending that people don’t get drunk at beer fests.

    Also, sorry for the confusion. I tried to be clear about the kind of beer festival I am talking about. Yes, SIB and Fremont Oktoberfest are large beer festivals in Seattle. More like large beer gardens in Seattle. IMHO. They are different in many ways. Regular reader of this blog know how keenly aware I am of those events.

  11. Kendall its been a long time hope you are well. I am wondering if this issue is more about the instance of stupid violence that come from too many rookies getting hammered? it would be interesting to compare the so called crime rate associated with each. ( of course all the smokers are committing a so called crime.)

  12. One of the reasons I always like the Father’s Day Fest is that families ARE allowed. Allowing parents to bring their kids along shows that tasting (and celebrating) good beer is an OK, normal activity. I also think it creates an atmosphere which focuses on responsible tasting versus getting drunk. I contrast it with the Fremont Oktoberfest, which becomes an unpleasant drunk fest each year. With children present, everyone seems to be better behaved at beer fests.

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