08/09/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week we talk with Vivian McPeak, director of Seattle Hempfest, about marijuana, Washington state medical and adult use marijuana laws, and about Seattle Hempfest, which is August 14-16 this year.

Audio file


AUGUST 9, 2015


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization. Legalization. The end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. Drug Truth programming is supported through the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. And now, on with the show.

Well folks, I had the opportunity to interview Vivian McPeak, director of Seattle Hempfest, recently. Seattle Hempfest will be August 14th, 15th, and 16th this year. I hope to see you all there. Now, let's get on with that interview.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, Seattle Hempfest is as you mention the world's largest cannabis policy reform event, in its 24th year. Here, in about a week and a half, we're going to have, oh, roughly a hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand people, anybody's guess exactly how many, down on the Seattle waterfront for a one and a half miles of expanse, with six stages, a hundred and forty bands, over a hundred speakers, a huge Hemposium circus tent with panel discussions and keynote presentations, stuff like that, and about 400 arts, crafts, food and informational vendors, and we're going to hempresent all day long for three days.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm wondering now, it takes a lot of people to run Hempfest. On the day, well I guess on the weekend, how many volunteers do you have working at the fest, altogether or at any one time?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, we print a thousand staff shirts for Hempfest, and we usually run out, so we have at least a thousand people working for Hempfest, filling 128 crews, and 125 crew coordinators. We've got 125 people who are our core group and they meet all year round, every month, and then we have a nine person board of directors, so we have well over a thousand people that are going to work on the event to make it happen.

DOUG MCVAY: Some people out there -- got to ask this one -- some people out there might be thinking, Why keep doing a protestival like Hempfest? There are four states with legal marijuana, everyone and their cousins are putting on marijuana trade and business shows. What would you say about all that?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, you know, first thing I'd say, Doug, is that of course, cannabis is still illegal on the federal level. It's still a Schedule One substance, so really, from a legal perspective, there is no state with legal marijuana. It's all kind of smoke and mirrors, if you're the federal government, it could be shut down at any time -- President Trump, or President Clinton, or President Bush, coming in, whoever the president is, could kind of put the kibosh on the whole thing. But I'd even go more fundamental than that, and say that here in my state of Washington, which is one of the first two states to quote "legalize", there are some folks called the Kettle Falls Five, and they were growing a state-legal medical marijuana grow and four of them right now are facing 20 years in a federal penitentiary because they've been federally prosecuted.

There's still about 50 Americans serving lifetime sentences for marijuana, and while we're doing this interview today, somebody in America has those red lights behind their car right now, or their doors being bashed in, and they're going to lose their career and their home, maybe, and break up their family and lose their freedom. So, you know, until the last person's let out of jail or marijuana is completely de-scheduled entirely like alcohol and tobacco from the federal schedule, we think that it's time to keep fighting, and fighting strong.

DOUG MCVAY: I agree, and I think we're very, we're very lucky to have you fighting the fight on the side of reform. What is, what drives you, Vivian? What's the driving force behind the activism?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, I should have to say yerba matte. I tell you what drives me, it's, I'm 56 years old, I'll be 57 before the year's over, and I come from the 1960s counter-culture generation, and my generation, when I was growing up, cannabis was literally, the pot leaf was a symbol of my culture, of my generation. And, to me, well, let me back up. I had friends when I was about 14, some of my best friends were this older couple, quite a bit older than me, they were in their early 20s. They kind of took me in under their wing, and I was like their little buddy. And they had a beautiful family, they had two young children, and they were some of the most responsible, kind, caring people I'd ever met. Great parents. But they were growing five pot plants in their back yard. This is in California.

And they got busted in the early 70s. They got busted, and the husband, the father, ended up serving several years in a penitentiary for growing pot. The family was broken up, they got a divorce, the kids were raised without their father. It destroyed this incredibly beautiful family, and the kids didn't have access to pot, the pot plants were sealed off in their backyard in a place where the kids couldn't even get to them or see them. And, I just -- it really had a profound impact on me. I was a very young, you know, young kind of, young hippie type kid, and I had already started experimenting with marijuana, a little bit early, I admit. But I was like, wow. You know, to me, at the time, I thought a beer gets me more intoxicated than a couple hits off a joint. The fact that the government would destroy a beautiful family over what I thought was nothing, really had a profound impact on me.

So, you know, that's when I decided that I was going to, at some point in my life, spend some time advocating for cannabis. And then, of course, in the early 90s, I got involved with Seattle Hempfest and cannabis changed my life. So what really drives me is that I grew up believing that America was the land of the free and the home of the brave and all that stuff, and I won't be finished until I think that we've made it more so, more true.

DOUG MCVAY: You know, a lot of people out there are finding out about the drug war, and the fight for drug policy reform. It's becoming more of a serious issue, and people are finally, you know, thinking and talking about it. People are thinking about it, they are on our side, but they haven't made the decision yet to become publicly active or identified with legalization, with reform. You know, people get scared, maybe they're in a small town, they don't want to go against the grain in politics -- all kinds of reasons. What kind of advice would you have for someone out there who's thinking about getting active, in a public way, about, around legalization and reform?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Sure. Well, first I would say, there's nothing like a little vindication, you know, to give you a boost, and we've seen now four states and DC make significant reforms in their cannabis laws, and the polling now indicates that more Americans than not think that these laws should be changed, and a clear 50 percent of Americans or more have experimented with cannabis. What I would tell people is that, if you want to live in a free country, if you want to live in a country that, where equality and justice and liberty reigns, then you've got to be willing to put your name and your ass on the line for your beliefs. You know, some people have sensitive jobs and maybe they don't want their children to know that they're advocates for cannabis and all that stuff, but if we're not all willing to step forward for what we believe in, who else is going to do it?

I don't believe that this is a cause that you can subcontract somebody else by sending 25 bucks a month to some other organization somewhere, in DC or wherever else, and expect things to demonstrably change, because, they're working on it but they can't do it without us. And, you know, the nature of America and other democracies is that the future is often determined, the future of our nation's policies, is often determined in the streets, and now in the ballot box, and now on the internet -- there's so many ways that people can be active. They don't need to be a full-time activist, and they don't need to be, you know, getting signatures down at the local Safeway or something like that. They can actually send that 25 bucks, which is more than nothing, if you're not doing anything, and you're too busy or too timid, then by all means, please, fund the organizations, the national and the local organizations working on it.

But there's so many other things people can do. They can send letters to the editor, they can talk to their local clergymen, or their neighbors, or their friends, about these issues. They can, you know -- and the first thing I'd say, before you do anything, learn the facts. There's so much information out there, because accuracy is vital. If you don't know what you're talking about, don't say nothing. Spend some time learning the stuff, learning the ropes, but it's just vitally important that people don't be timid or afraid to speak out for justice and truth, because if you won't speak out for your own freedom, then who the hell's going to do it?

And it's great, it's a great community of people. You will meet people, that -- the one thing that I have gained working more than a quarter of a century in the reform movement, like yourself, one thing that I've gained is access to an incredible global culture of high-spirited, highly motivated, rugged individualists who act upon their beliefs, and it's a tremendous community of people to meet, and to belong to, and it's extremely inspirational.

DOUG MCVAY: Truer words have never been spoken. You are one of the wisest people in the movement, and it is an honor to have you talking with me now. This is Vivian -- that is, this is Doug McVay, that is Vivian McPeak, he's the director of Hempfest up in Seattle, it's August 14th, 15th, and 16th, that's a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, spans three parks, is it? How many miles is it from one end to the other, the thing's huge.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: It's one and a half miles long, and I tell you, I do more walking during Hempfest than I do the rest of the year. It spans three waterfront parks, right down on the beautiful Puget Sound, right on the water, with the Space Needle on on one side, and Mount Rainier on the other, and the Puget Sound on the other. It's an incredibly beautiful place to be any time of the year, and, you know, I tell people to bring their walking shoes.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh very much so. It's worth checking out the whole thing, too, there's so much all the way through. It's just, it's -- yeah. Wonderful. Tell me, talk to me for a minute about the, tell people -- tell my listeners I should say, about the Hemposium Stage. That is my favorite of all of them.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yes, the Ric Smith Memorial Hemposium Stage. It's a 100 by 400 foot huge circus-style tent, and it's got a stage in there, and chairs and stuff, it's one of the only places you can sit down in the entire Hempfest. And every day it starts off with panel discussions and a keynote speaker or two, and then, on the Friday, it goes all day long and then on Saturday and Sunday, about 4 o'clock the stage fires up and we have about four bands a day, four of them, musical performances, and then on Friday night, the first night of Hempfest, right at the end of Hempfest at 8 pm is the coveted VIP party, that people that purchase VIP memberships -- available at HempFest.org -- can attend, and that's got every mover, shaker, and history maker, just about, that's signed up for the event, and our sponsors, and, you know, the guys from NORML and High Times are usually there, and it's a great place to rub elbows with real, you know, some of the real premier luminaries of the Hempfest.

DOUG MCVAY: What I love about the Ric Smith Memorial Hemposium Stage is that you get a chance to actually -- I mean, the Main Stage and all the rest are beautiful, they're incredible, the sensation of being with all those people, looking out at seas of people like that -- wow. Beyond words. But, you know, it's basically a minute to three minute rah-rah, and maybe a crowd chant if you can get it going, but no substantive -- try substantive stuff up there, it's just going to -- you're one of the few people I know who can riff at a crowd like that for an extended period and actually hold the crowd, because that's a -- yeah.

The Hemposium is where people who, like myself, who might be a little long winded -- maybe once in a while -- can actually, can hold forth for a moment. You've got to keep it snappy, but you get the chance to actually talk for more than a couple of minutes on a particular topic and get some questions with the audience. As I say, that's the -- the fact that you have that, I think, really sets you apart from the old days, doing any of the Smoke-Ins and such. I love the fact that you have like a mini-conference going on, right there at the -- it's like, you're doing a conference and oh yeah, there's this music and politics festival going on next door. It's brilliant.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yeah, we call the Main Stage "the meatgrinder", because there's not a second of dead time on the whole stage, and it's brutal keeping everything on time, and so yeah, I feel for anybody that tries to go a minute over their talk, because I'm on their ass. The Hemposium is a great place to hear the long panel discussions and the in-depth, you know, the in-depth question and answer periods and all that stuff that takes place. It's pretty cool, it is kind of like a symposium within a protestival.

DOUG MCVAY: It is brilliant. But the music, yeah, the music is great, all the stages have their, sort of their own flavors. Main Stage -- how many bands have you got going this year?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: This year we'll have 140 musical acts, and that includes, you know, our four performance stages, which all do have kind of their own flavor, we have a really kind of a hard rock heavy metal stage, and that's the McWilliams Stage -- the McWilliams-Black Stage. And then, we've got of course the Main Stage is a little mix of the best, the cream of the crop of everything. And the Seeley Stage, the Ralph and Judith Memorial -- Seeley Memorial -- Ralph and Judith Seeley Memorial Stage, has kind of a more international and folk music, bluegrass, jazz, kind of non-hard rock stuff. And then we have two really cool electronic dance music stages, EDM stages, and that's the Starborne Stage and the Bassdrop Stage, and they've got a slightly different flavor on both of those as well.

And then, on the Hemposium Stage, on the second half of Saturday and Sunday, they've got a little bit more kind of an eclectic mix of music, kind of smaller acts, because they have to get their equipment a mile and a half through the event. It's a real challenge, getting every band to their stage through that massive crowd, it's a real logistical challenge, but somehow we manage to do it.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. This is an interview with Vivian McPeak, director of Seattle Hempfest. Let's get back to it.

Yeah, it's an inspiration, really, seeing that, seeing that kind of --

VIVIAN MCPEAK: It's perspirational, it's perspirational to us.

DOUG MCVAY: I've got to ask, are you planning on having an adult use consumption area? That is, a smoking lounge? Are there any of those planned? There were a couple last year.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: That's a tremendously good question, and I have to tell you that we did, last year we had two adult consumption areas that were sealed off -- or I should say they were fenced off from the public, out of public view, children weren't allowed, we took IDs at the beginning, or at the entrance, but you know, the legislature in Washington state just passed SB2162, I believe it is [Editor's note: the bill is actually SB2136], and it made it a felony to have an area for the purpose of imbibing cannabis. And about four days ago, the city of Seattle contacted us. You know, the city made us do those last year, told us we had to do them, and we were glad to do that because we think that the future of cannabis events in Washington state and elsewhere is that there will be places for people 21 and over to imbibe, like beer gardens, for example, at events all over the country.

And so, that's the reason that we cooperated with that, because we thought that was a good model, but sadly our legislature thinks that pot is Oxycontin, and so we won't be able, we just got the kibosh on that five days ago. Membership, ordered the equipment, and staffing, and all that kind of stuff. So really, the whole Hempfest is probably going to, to some people's perspective, the whole Hempfest is going to be a use area, but it's not legal to smoke marijuana in a city park, so it's important that people know that anybody who is imbibing, it's an act of civil disobedience, and you do at your own risk. That said, you know, historically, in the last ten years, there haven't been any citations for public smoking issued. But we do hope that people use discretion and use their heads.

DOUG MCVAY: Wow. Wow, I knew that there were some major changes, I didn't realize that they'd reached all the way down to that.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yes, it's disturbing. That's just the tip of the iceberg, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: Would you be willing to speak publicly about some of the changes that have just gone into effect up there in Washington state, or just begun to I guess.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: I'd be glad to.


VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, as everybody knows, as some people know, I-502 was the citizen's initiative that legalized, quote "legalized" marijuana in Washington state in 2012, and then since then we've had Senate Bill 5052, now there's 2136, and, you know, as somebody who's spent a quarter century working on these issues, I'm very disillusioned and somewhat demoralized, if not, you know, even more determined to keep going, because we've had, you know, it's kind of been like a two steps forward and one and a half steps back, in my opinion.

In 1998, I worked with many other people in this area on Initiative I-692, which legalized medical marijuana in Washington state. And it won, eventually patients their ability to have 24 ounces of marijuana and 15 plants. Well, that was just rolled back with Senate Bill 5052. And now, if you are a medical marijuana patient and you don't sign a state registry, you basically get no more freedoms than anybody else. You can have an ounce of pot. You can't grow any plants, I don't believe, and if you do sign that registry, now you can grow I think it's, I think you can have 6 plants and three ounces of marijuana, and that's just not enough for somebody who needs a lot, or who eats their cannabis, ingests it, or juices it and whatever.

That's just not going to be enough. Not everybody's a great gardener, you know. Some people need to grow quite a few plants to get a month's supply. These new bills restrict the doctors, extremely. A doctor, if they write over 30 medical marijuana authorizations per year, they've got to contact the Washington department of health, they've got to register, all that stuff, they've got to keep ridiculous records. It's really putting a lot of burden on the medical marijuana community.

In addition, the state, excuse me the county prosecutor and the county sheriff just had a press conference about a block from where I am right now about three weeks ago, announcing they're going to shut down at least 50 percent of the medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington state, and that came out the same week that a national article came out that showed that medical marijuana dispensaries are saving lives, because in cities that have -- in towns and cities that have dispensaries, there's up to a 20 percent reduction in opioid deaths and use. And so, it's very troublesome.

Now we've got the Washington State Liquor Control Board just became the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, and I heard that one guy, one processor, they made him put a camera under the table, because, Oh, we can't see what people are doing under the table, like they expect that there might be a gram of pot missing or something. I believe it's the Oxycontin model, you know, we went kind of from the plutonium model to the Oxycontin model, and I think that the liquor, the alcohol model's not good enough for cannabis. We need to have the cannabis model. It's a relatively benign, very therapeutic, natural substance. Children shouldn't have cannabis, which is a no-brainer. You shouldn't drive impaired, which is another no-brainer. But other than that, to treat pot like it's Oxycontin is just ridiculous.

And, so, it's very frustrating. I feel like, you know, it's like, I just said earlier today that I've used this word "legalization" since the 70s, and I was naive. I thought it would be as simple as, well, you legalize pot, nobody goes to jail for pot, it's, we're done. It's actually much more complicated than that, and some people think legalization means massive tax revenues for the city, for the state, and that's not a bad thing, but if that's the primary motivation, then something's amiss. Economics and taxes are a big part of regulation, and legalizing pot, but the most important thing though is that we get rid of prohibition. I mean, that's got to be the first thing we do. Get rid of prohibition, and let the chips fall as they -- let the nugs fall as they may.

So, there are a lot of changes going on, and you know, it's -- we're making progress and we're moving in the right direction but from my perspective, Colorado, Oregon have done a lot better job. In Washington state, instead of allowing the medical dispensaries to become -- you know, which already had large investments of money, they already created supply chains, they already had point of sale systems, they already developed customer bases -- allowing them to fold into the recreational stores, like has happened in Colorado and other states, seems to be like that would have been a much better way, but no, we didn't do it that way.

We created an entirely new system, and it wasn't even a merit-based system, it was a lottery-based system to see who gets to open a recreational store. That doesn't make any sense to me. And now, of course, what we're seeing is a lot of these medical dispensaries aren't given a path to citizenship, they're not given the ability to license and make a transition, they're being shut down. And we're talking about stores where people drive up, they park, they walk in, they buy some herb, they come back out, they get in their car, and they drive off.

Nothing's going wrong, there's no problem that's being fixed that I can see, and of course the result is these other stores may or may not have the strains that medical marijuana patients need. They're not going to be allowed to sell concentrates in these recreational stores, under this new bill, now BHO and things like that are heavily regulated and licensed, the manufacture of them, and so, you know, they're doing some good, I think they're also doing some things wrong. It's part of the process, I'm grateful that we have, that you can have an ounce of marijuana here, and anybody, any adult can walk down the street with a half ounce in each pocket, that's a big improvement from what it was before, but I think we still have some work to do.

I just want to go on record and say that I support the recreational stores. I really, I resent this idea that you have to choose one or the other. I support the recreational stores, I support the medical marijuana dispensaries. They serve a different clientele, they have a different style, they serve a different function, and I think that we need them both equally.

DOUG MCVAY: We're supposed to be on a panel on Sunday, the question of, can we balance the religious use, and the personal/recreational use, and the medical market, can we find a balance for these three. And I'm wondering if you, any advance thoughts on that topic? Which I've just mangled, but I don't have it written in front of me, so --

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, I'll tell you, no, personally, I believe that cannabis is a upaya, a vehicle for transcendence and for introspection. And certainly, I smoke, you know, imbibe cannabis, it connects me with my universe and the natural world. I think that the war on cannabis has been a war on the natural world, it's a symptom of a greater systemic war against the natural world. And we see it all around us, where we think that we can improve upon nature, or even worse, that nature is something to fight and to conquer.

And I see things completely the other way, and I think that cannabis is one of many gifts that nature has given us, of, you know, all the phytochemicals that we take in our bodies every day, eating food or we're smelling food, smelling plants and flowers, when we're taking many medicines which are derived from botanicals, and so, I think that if we can't balance spirituality, the religious use, with these other uses, that we're going to fail in a big way. I think that when we can find some religious freedom in this country, this country loves to tout its religious freedom, and boy, we make a big deal of that until you come to cannabis, and then you hit this brick wall, this kind of bureaucratic barbed wire fence, and it's time to change that, and there are people, there are the Coptics, and the Rastafarians, and a whole variety of people, there's even Christians for Cannabis, in fact, a big organization.

And so, you know, we've got to walk our talk, man. When we talk about, you know, America being founded on religious freedom, we've got to walk our talk, and make sure that it's not just the old traditional religions that have, you know, moldy old dusty books, but that everybody can embrace their own spirituality and their own transcendence, using whatever method works best for them, including the non-toxic, relatively therapeutic, and relatively benign cannabis plant.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. This is an interview with Vivian McPeak, director of Seattle Hempfest.

Well, that's all the time we really have today. Thank you for listening. Century Of Lies is heard on 420Radio.org on Mondays at 11am and 11pm, Saturdays at 4am, all times are pacific. We're heard on time4hemp.com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm.

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We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.