WASHINGTON: If serial Hempfest-goer Rob Thomas of Everett had his way, marijuana would “be sold at farmers’ markets, just like tomatoes.”
That’s what Thomas, 25, hoped for when Washington voters last fall legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
But that’s not the picture painted by the panel of defense lawyers that Thomas and about 50 others listened to under a large tent during Saturday’s Hempfest session.
Instead, Seattle attorney Jeff Steinborn said the pot law, Initiative 502, “was drafted to pass, not to work.”
Steinborn said state officials, instead of allowing ready access to legal marijuana, seem determined to create a system under which marijuana is “regulated like plutonium and taxed at three different levels.”
“Our work here is not done,” said Steinborn. “Liberty is always unfinished business.”
About 250,000 people are expected to attend Hempfest, a “protestival” first held in 1991, and which continues from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at Myrtle Edwards Park on the Seattle waterfront.
Another member of the attorney panel, Doug Hiatt, said, “Some people think cannabis is legal (now). It’s not.”
He warned that users who rely on the initiative’s passage to buy and use marijuana may be in for a shock, especially with marijuana still banned under federal law.
Steinborn and Hiatt said recreational and medical users of marijuana are likely to find that marijuana will actually become more expensive and harder to get — factors which, in turn, will likely continue to fuel an illegal market for the drug.
The lawyers’ pessimistic view — at the first Hempfest since voters approved the pot law in November — sounded a cautionary tone at what seemed a celebration for many at the festival, with the scent of marijuana smoke in the air.
Phillipe Lucas, of Victoria, B.C., the moderator who introduced the legal discussion, said he felt high just arriving in Seattle, which he called an “island of freedom” in the campaign for marijuana.
And Viv McPeak, longtime Hempfest director, said those who attend the three-day festival should celebrate the pot law, which he called “a game changer” in marijuana policy.
“(Initiative) 502 is not perfect, but what in government is?” he said, adding that the new law should be regarded as a step on a journey, not an end.