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Police at Seattle marijuana Hempfest: ‘Hey dude, want some Doritos?’

This weekend's annual 'Hempfest' was the first since Washington State voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Seattle police saw it as a friendly opportunity to explain the law.

By Staff writer / August 18, 2013

Seattle Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb hands out bags of Doritos with a sticker that spells out rules for marijuana users during Seattle's annual Hempfest. This is the first year for the annual pro-pot rally since Washington State voters legalized recreational use of marijuana.

Joshua Trujillo/seattlepi.com/AP

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It wasn’t Seattle’s first “Hempfest” celebrating recreational marijuana. That was 22 years ago.

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But the gathering this weekend in the “Emerald City” – featuring crafts, music, food booths, speakers, and plenty of pungent smoke – was the first cannabis protest rally since voters in Washington State approved a ballot measure (I-502) last November legalizing recreational use of the drug.

It also included pro-legalization lawyers explaining the law – including a warning that marijuana is still illegal under federal law – as well as uniformed police officers handing out snacks to smokers feeling the “munchies.”

Technically, public use of marijuana remains illegal under Washington's new law, punishable by a $103 ticket. But Seattle police have only been giving people warnings since the law passed, and they had no plans to write anyone up at Hempfest.

But those bags of nacho-cheese Doritos chips handed out Saturday by Seattle’s finest came with a friendly but very clear message as well.

“We thought you might be hungry,” the label reads. “We also thought now might be a good time for a refresher on the do’s and don’ts of I-502.

The don’ts: "Don't drive while high. Don’t give, sell, or shotgun weed to people under 21. Don't use pot in public. You could be cited but we'd rather give you a warning."

The do’s: “Do listen to Dark Side of the Moon at a reasonable volume. Do enjoy Hempfest.”

The label is signed “(heart), SPD.”

Within 30 minutes 1,000 bags of Doritos were gone.

"We knew if we did leaflets, it would turn into litter," Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told CNN. "We wanted people to be able to access the information. It's actually fun to read. We wanted to do it in a way that is deliberately ironic.”

“Ultimately our goal was to start a conversation," he said.

Over the three days of Hempfest on Seattle’s waterfront, some 250,000 people were expected to attend.

Eighteen states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical use. Last November, Colorado and Washington became the first states to approve the use of cannabis for recreational use.

Authorities in both states are working out the details of how to regulate the sale and personal use of marijuana. The new Colorado law allows municipalities to regulate retail sales of marijuana for recreational use. They can also decide to not allow such sales at all in their jurisdiction.

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center reported that for the first time, a majority of Americans support legalization of marijuana.

By 52-45 percent, Americans say that marijuana use should be made legal – a trend that has been moving in that direction since 1991 – with 72 percent saying that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws aren’t worth the cost.

Vivian McPeak, Hempfest's executive director, said this year's event in Seattle was dedicated to reforming federal marijuana laws – specifically, the removal of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning a drug that has no medical benefit and a high likelihood of abuse. He asked festival-goers to make a voluntary $10 contribution to help offset the rally's $800,000 cost.

"When we started Hempfest in 1991, many people thought we were jousting in the wind," McPeak said. "What we've seen with the historic passage of I-502 and measure 62 in Colorado is that change is definitely in the wind."

So was the odor of cannabis in Seattle this weekend.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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