08/06/17 Vivian McPeak

Century of Lies

Seattle Hempfest will be held August 18, 19, and 20 in Washington state along the Puget Sound, so this week we talk with Hempfest Executive Director Vivian McPeak.

Audio file


AUGUST 6, 2017


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Vivian McPeak is a peace and social justice activist based in Washington. He founded the Seattle Peace Heathens Community Action Group in 1988, and that group went on to later organize Seattle Hempfest, which is the world's largest cannabis policy reform rally. Vivian is currently the executive director of Seattle Hempfest, and he is on the phone line with me now. Vivian, how the heck are you doing?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: I'm great, Doug my brother, so good to talk to you again.

DOUG MCVAY: Ah, Viv, the pleasure is mine, it is an absolute honor and a joy to have you on the line with me, it truly is. You do such amazing work. Now, for the benefit of the, oh, dozen or so people out there who maybe have not yet heard of Seattle Hempfest -- well, I've got friends back in rural Iowa who may not have, okeh, and they listen because they're my friends. So, could you tell folks, what is Hempfest?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, Hempfest is the world's largest, as you said, annual cannabis policy reform event. The world's biggest protestival, and this year it's going to feature four stages of political speech and musical support, with arts, crafts, food, and informational vendors, a gigantic circus tent with panel discussions that we call the Hemposium, and among our awesome programming we'll have an hour long indigenous tribute to the Standing Rock struggle on the main stage.

DOUG MCVAY: Wow. A lot of stuff you have lined up for this year. Now, the, you have a theme for this year's event. What is the -- tell me about your theme.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yes, our theme is community values, which is how to negotiate the community -- excuse me, the theme's actually "When They Go Low, We Go High: Community Values in the Age of Division." And, it's really, obviously there's a little tongue in cheek on the title there, a little double entendre, but, you know, we are living in unprecedented times of unbelievable vitriol and division, and social media seems to be a place where that plays out in ways that we've never seen before.

And so if people go to our website, Hempfest.org, they can click on theme, and they can read the two-page piece that we kind of put together, that really talks, really touches kind of on our approach to the last 25 years, which is to attack policies, and laws, not people and not personalities. You know, we don't believe in demonizing individuals because they have different ideas. We believe in attacking the ideas.

DOUG MCVAY: Indeed. Well, and so many times it's -- ah, one day we'll share stories about some of the craziness that people can do, it's just, it's, I mean, tearing down, it's --

VIVIAN MCPEAK: We could write a book.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh my friend, it's just that crab in a bucket thing, you know, people, it's the -- can't let people succeed, can't let people achieve, got to pull them back down into the bucket with the rest of us, and it's just -- it's a terrible thing of human nature, and it's just a, it's -- got to rise above it.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: We have this tendency to race to the gutter, and sadly, even in the cannabis reform movement, we seem to gravitate towards this politics as usual, this politics of division, and politics of degradation, and, you know, internet lynchings and circular firing squads and stuff. And so, you know, we have a big platform at Hempfest, we have a big, big voice, so we felt a responsibility to try to provide some leadership, as hard as it may be for us to live up to our own standards.

And, you know, try to set a tone that says, look, we're all in this together. Let's not demonize each other and question each other's motives and integrity. Let's look at differences in strategy and policy, and then aggressively, you know, break down and attack the policies that we think are unjust.

DOUG MCVAY: And that's the right way to go forward. I mean, every, every movement, every political movement has, you know, occasional infighting, that's just how people are. But, it does feel like as the business has grown, as the industry has grown and developed and the legal businesses, and the competition that's in there, that it does feel sometimes like it's gotten worse.

Now, business, you know, and thinking about these legal businesses, well, you get asked this every time, sorry but I've got to ask you yet again: With legalization in Washington and Oregon and California, gosh we have eight states that have an actual, you know, some kind of legal adult use thing happening. Sometimes regulated sale, sometimes not, like in DC. But, with all that happening, why do we need Seattle Hempfest?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: That's a great question, so glad you asked it. And let me just add the caveat before I start, that I believe that our state has the worst model, commoditized cannabis, but there's a lot going on, you know. As you know, cannabis is federally illegal, and with the stroke of a pen, the great Mister Sessions could basically dismantle it all in about a month, shops would probably close down all across the country. I wouldn't put it past him. They've actually saber rattled in this area and shown a desire to go after cannabis reform.

And in addition to that, we have a 25 point platform on our website under our media page, if you go to Hempfest.org, which lists not necessarily in order, but 25, the 25 priorities that we're still working on, and I'll just give you like the top four, if I can remember them in order. And that is, number one, is going to be equality, consumption equality for children in schools who need medical marijuana.

And as you know, if you have a child in school and they need Oxycontin or any prescription drug, or an antibiotic or whatever, the school nurse can just take them into their office and give it to them. But if your kid needs cannabis oil for their Dravet syndrome, or their epilepsy, I mean, or their multiple sclerosis, or whatever their issue may be, a parent has to come and take them out of school. I mean, miss half a day, just to give them their dose of cookie, whatever it is. That's a priority for us, we think that's an outrage, and sick kids are our top priority.

We also have the worst consumption laws of the eight states, just about, I think, even though none of the states have good consumption laws. And what I mean by that is that if you are tourist, or if you live in public housing, or if you are homeless, there's virtually nowhere for you to legally consume cannabis. You can go buy it, but there's nowhere to consume it. That's not legalization to us.

And, let's see, here in Washington state, our brilliant legislature passed a law that said you cannot advertise a cannabis business, whether it's a processor, a grower, a packager, or a retail outlet, on public property, or in a city park. Of course, Hempfest is in both, and we think that's a violation of the First Amendment. They just passed some really restrictive billboard laws here in Washington state. They can no longer have spinners, or, out in front have people spinning a sign, or, you know, the inflatable socks in front of their store and stuff. And we're just looking for some advertising equality.

And then of course you can't grow your own in Washington state, and we believe that if you're forced to go to a rec store, and just, I mean, god love the rec stores, thank god for these recreational stores, where you can just go into brick and mortar place and buy some pot. Great thing, man, totally support it, but, it allows, state allows 250 pesticides, rec stores are not geared for patients, they shut all the medical dispensaries down in Washington state.

Yeah, the recreational stores don't necessary have the incentive to stock the strains which medical patients need specifically to treat their symptoms, and then of course there's 250 pesticides allowed in recreational cannabis, and we believe that you should have the right to grow your own cannabis here in Washington state, and we currently don't have that.

And there's other things, you know, like the right to have a gun and be growing some cannabis, you know, we think there's a whole variety of things that are still worth fighting for, and those are some of the legislative priorities that we'll be bringing into the next session. And that's why we think that there's a reason for Hempfest.

But beyond that, you know, in Germany, they have Oktoberfest, which has over a million people annually celebrating the culture of beer. Beers never been illegal in Germany, but, so we don't see any reason why Hempfest shouldn't continue, and events like Hempfest, because our culture also deserves to have big cultural events as well.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh, indeed, you know, in fact, just a weekend ago, I was volunteering in the trash and recycling crew at the Oregon Brewers Festival, massive, several days worth of a city park opened up with lots of brewers doing samples of their beers, and of course it was a family event, there's the root beer tent so people can take their kids over there, and, but otherwise they're just roaming everywhere, and, you know, it's part of the -- it's a business down here, it's an industry, so they just view it as a natural thing, and you know, and there's that whole treating marijuana like alcohol, the idea was -- you know, that was part of the push during legalization everywhere, and it's like, that's a great idea, and alcohol --

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yeah, let's do it!

DOUG MCVAY: Indeed, alcohol, maybe we should do something about the way we promote, but in the meantime, yeah, treat it like that.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, you know, on that note, Doug, we have a major consumption issue here, as I mentioned. You know, you can have, we have lounges and clubs and bars and you can go and consume alcohol, and you can even sit out on a patio of a bar and consume alcohol in full view of children, but we don't have anything even remotely like that for cannabis.

DOUG MCVAY: And there we get into the class analysis for this thing, because when you get down to it, I mean, sure, you can, if you have a place of your own, if you own a place, you might be able to grow pretty, you know, with, relatively conveniently, but what if you have an apartment? What if you have a small apartment, what if you just have -- well, not even a small one, but what if you just don't have enough space to put in four good plants, like we can down here in Oregon? What if, you know, the only place I have would be on the second floor and that's a little tricky hauling dirt. I don't want to do hydro.

And it's just, and is that really going to be anything more than just ornamental? You know, it's nice to have the law say that you can do this, but, you know, you can, technically, but really you need to have the resources and you need to have, I mean, really you need to be more like an upper middle class and owning a home. So, people who don't --


DOUG MCVAY: -- well, sorry, it's not really legal for you. And it's just like with consumption, yes, if you have a place of your own, you can consume, and if not, well, whoops, sorry, not really legal for you. So, I mean, that whole class thing just driving me mad lately.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yeah, you know what, we have a lot of work to do, and you know because of the legalization models that were promoted, campaigned for, and successfully implemented in these eight states, regardless of the substantive advances that they've made, now, there's virtually no momentum in the legislature or with citizen initiatives to further advance reform efforts, although we do continue to make some incremental progress in a few areas, but we've still got a big fight ahead of us, man, we are not there yet.

And if I may indulge you, another couple of things about Hempfest that I think that are reasons that Hempfest, of all cannabis events, should continue. I think that we are the most socially responsible and sophisticated cannabis event of our kind anywhere in the world, and, you know, just give me a second here. You know, we rent extra AED heart defibrillators because of the length of our event. Nobody else even has them.

And we've almost ten thousand -- in fact, at Hempfest, we'll see 10,000 attendees register to vote during our event, with our voter registration crew. We have proactively, we've been working with the Seattle Animal Shelter on protecting pets, and messaging pet owners not to leave pets in their cars at the event, where they can die from the heat. We proactively contact Fish and Wildlife, asking them to close the pier inside of Hempfest during the event for environmental purposes and safety purposes.

You know, we've had responsible messaging from our stages for 25 years, reinforcing our sincere respect for first responders, including law enforcement officers, who we work closely with during the event, whose minds we've changed a lot of them. We spend two months annually in an effort to track down the owners of the extensive lost and found items that we have before we discard them from the event. We've instituted a Code Adam lost child protocol, and training to respond effectively in the case of a missing child at the event.

We have an ecology crew that is a refuse management operation that works almost nonstop within the event. They handle the large loads of trash, we sort, recycle, compost, or landfill on average 500 cubic yards of trash. And, in 2014, we worked with a University of Washington professor to develop an economic impact study that revealed that Hempfest generates $7.1 million in King County, and supports massive jobs. And we aggressively enforce a "no illegal sales" policy at our event, because it's not selling fest, it's Hempfest.

But, other than all of that, there hasn't been a citation for public smoking at Hempfest in 20 years. It's an environment where, actually the only environment I know of where you can hang out in a park and listen to music in view of the beautiful Puget Sound and Mount Rainier and basically do your thing without problem.

DOUG MCVAY: You are listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

And you do have some terrific music up there too, a lot of great bands. I saw The Slants for the first time, I live in Portland for heaven's sake, the first time I see The Slants is up on Main Stage at Hempfest a year or two ago.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: And I'll have you know that when we saw that The Slants had a, they had a copyright trademark battle with the US federal government, trying to trademark their name, we immediately contacted them and booked them at the event, to support their battle, and that's why you saw them.

DOUG MCVAY: And you probably know then that just a month or two ago, they won.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yeah. They won! Isn't that cool?

DOUG MCVAY: It is terrific.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: But we have some other great acts this year. We've got Naomi Wachira, voted the best folk artist in Washington state. Hiphop artist Shyan Selah, as well as Jamil Suleman, and we've got Andy Coe, an hour-long tribute as I said to Standing Rock on our -- an indigenous tribute on our Main Stage, featuring Mystic Chief and Buffalo Band, which just got back from Standing Rock.

And I'll have you know that we have booked the most representative and inclusive line-up on Main Stage this year that we've ever had, and I won't kind of list all the different things because I don't want to objectify those people, but, because we're fighting back against this political dystopian hellscape that we have in DC, we made a point to try to get the most marginalized -- represent the most marginalized communities in our program this year, with our musical support. So we invite everybody to go to Hempfest.org and click on the schedule.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Right on, indeed, and again folks, I'm speaking with the executive director of Hempfest, that's Vivian McPeak. You can find out more about Hempfest, which is being held August 19 -- whoops, let's try that again -- which is being held August 18, 19, and 20 in Seattle, Washington, right there along the Puget Sound, right there in Myrtle Edwards Park, and, wow, it's a, what is it, three miles long, that strip of land? How --

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, you know, it's one and a half miles long. Don't kill me and make it three miles.

DOUG MCVAY: I walked -- when I walked from one end to the other it felt like it was that long. My god.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, if you walk from one end to the other and back, it is three miles.


VIVIAN MCPEAK: And the other thing I want to add real quickly is that we just had a call the other day from federal prison, from Jimmy Romans, who's one of several prisoners that we've kind of adopted, and Jimmy is, was sentenced to a life sentence in prison for cannabis. Right? And we raised -- we do raffles at our members events and put money on his commissary, and, you know, send him cards and stuff. And Jimmy, you know, the good news and the bad news is that Jimmy just had his life sentence commuted to thirty years. Wow, how nice, for cannabis, which means he won't even be eligible for parole for 18 years. For pot. And that's longer than a lot of murderers get. And they're eligible for parole so often in less time than that.

So, that's another reason, people like Jimmy Romans, one of the fifty Americans serving life in prison sentences for cannabis, are the reason that we need to keep having events like Hempfest. As long as there's somebody in jail or prison over cannabis, we need to have an event like Hempfest. It's a priority that we get our brothers and sisters out, man.

DOUG MCVAY: Absolutely. Absolutely. Vivian, I just thank you so much for all your time and for all your hard work, and I know you're going to be, good gosh, you've only got a couple of weeks left before this, as we're recording this, it is literally just two weeks before that thing starts, you open the gates and it just is -- it's going to be amazing. It's going to absolutely, I'm looking forward, I'll be up there.

Of course folks, yes, I will be up there, got some speaking slots on Friday, I'll be at Hemposium Stage on Saturday for, probably for the whole day, I love it at Hemposium, it's the -- I mean, you've got the kind of quality panels and panel discussions that you would expect to see at one of the major conferences. You have great speakers, and your topics are serious, I mean, it's not just -- you don't -- some of these things do an industry showcase and basically you've got people talking about -- hyping themselves, and the bottom line is buy my stuff. And at Hempfest, you've got people who really know what they're talking about, and the bottom line is, I have knowledge, you have knowledge, let's share and let's build on this. And it's just, it's, I -- yeah. I'm constantly, every time I go there I'm more and more impressed.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Well, thank you so much. It is crunch time, and I am feeling crunchy, but I want you to know that when we're not producing Hempfest, we are reading Drug War Facts, one of the best compilations of data and raw information to fight the power that exists, and thank you for that, my brother.

DOUG MCVAY: I -- I -- I am honored by your words, and I may need -- and I may ask you if I may, and if I may, I would like to use that as a blurb on our website.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Oh, man, of course. That's why I gave it to you.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, then, thank you.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: You bet, man.

DOUG MCVAY: It will be appearing on our front page shortly.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: I could do better than that.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, we'll talk, I may edit this part out, but we'll talk, we'll talk. I would love to get a blurb from you for the website though, I'm looking for another couple, and you'd be, yeah, oh god.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: If I could add one more final statement.

DOUG MCVAY: Please. Go for it, in fact, any closing thoughts for the listeners?

VIVIAN MCPEAK: Yes. This is the 26th annual Seattle Hempfest. We've been, you know, it's an urban campfire and we've been burning the flame for over a quarter century, and it's really, really, really getting hard for us. We've lost two stages this year. Not only did we lose the Starborne Electronic Dance Music Stage, this year we lost the Seeley Stage, a 19 year stage with a crew and it's a family that's been waging their truth and battles, trying to keep the stage running on time and get it built and torn down on time, for 19 years it's been their little fiefdom, where they create their magic, and because of the economic challenges that we're having here, in the fastest growing city in America, with more cranes than anywhere in the world building tall buildings, the economics are changing and we're struggling.

And, if people could, you know, come to the event, give us a ten dollar contribution for three days of peace and music and freedom and speakers, or even go to our website, if people can chip down anything to us just to keep the fire burning, we're struggling, and we want to make sure that there's a 27th annual Hempfest. I could, you know, spend the whole show talking about all the various reasons that this is happening, partially because of our success, and now there's competitive events all over the place, which is a great thing.

But if people could help us keep the fire burning, man, we need the help. Because we've been there longer than anybody in this region, anyway, kind of making it happen, tilling the soil for reform. And resistance is fertile.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, Vivian, I wish you luck. And again folks, for more information or to make a donation, go to Hempfest.org. Vivian, thanks.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: All right, brother, we'll be seeing you in about 16 days, something like that. I'll be looking forward to it, and it's always a pleasure.

DOUG MCVAY: Ah, the pleasure is mine, and the honor. Vivian, take good care. You stay cool and stay hydrated, brother, it's nasty out there.

VIVIAN MCPEAK: I will stay high and drated. Take care, bro.

DOUG MCVAY: You too, man, cheers.

All right, that was a conversation with Vivian McPeak. He is the executive director of Seattle Hempfest. Information at hempfest.org. Or just come up to Seattle, it's right there on the Sound, August 18, 19, and 20. I'll be there, and so will about a hundred thousand of my closest friends. Look forward to it.

Well, there's a lot of other stuff happening this week, of course. The Department of Justice task force on violent crime, appointed by Jeff Sessions, was supposed to be issuing its report. We got news recently that, well, they're not really issuing a report per se, but they're getting recommendations which Jefferson says that he's rolling out as they go along, which is a little problematic, because we don't really know whether he's taking anyone's advice, or if he's just saying that.

You know, back in 1972, Richard Nixon was Mister Law and Order. He was the guy with the war on drugs. He appointed a commission, chaired by a former Republican governor, Raymond Shaffer, to examine marijuana and marijuana policy, make recommendations. Now, we all knew things were going to be bad, it was Richard Nixon.

But, as the thing was going on, and as it was moving forward, there were whispers and rumors coming out that this report was actually going to be amazingly progressive, quite liberal. The rumors were it was going to be calling for relaxation of penalties, for decriminalizing marijuana. Raymond Shaffer spoke to Nixon prior to that report's being released. Nixon was quite frank, he wanted to get a real tough report, he wanted a report that would just rip the rear end out of it, he wanted something that was going to just smack 'em hard, because, well, that's what he wanted.

Raymond Shaffer was being considered for a federal judgeship at that time. Of course, a federal appointee to the bench is there for life, it would be a heck of a good job. He was being considered for one, and really all of it relied on what happened with that report.

Well, he issued the report, it was honest, it was -- it had integrity, it was intelligent, it was rational, it called for decriminalization, pointed out that the laws were far, far worse than the drug itself. It was a great report. Before reading it, without reading it, Richard Nixon said he didn't care what it said. He trashed it. Governor Raymond Shaffer was never appointed to the federal bench. He was too honest. And that report, well, federally didn't take off. He ignored it. That's the problem with an expert commission, sometimes you decide your experts, we just don't care.

Nixon tried to bury that report. Didn't work. And now in the information age, you can find copies. It's great. But it also proves the point. Just because there is a commission being appointed, and just because the commission may actually say some stuff that's not bad, doesn't mean we're going to actually see any of those recommendations go into effect.

It's up to people like us to push hard for the smart policies, for effective policies, that we know are going to work. The policies that the experts know are going to work, too.

The president's task force on opioids gave a draft report not long ago. There were a couple of good things in there, expand access to methadone assisted treatment, expand access to treatment generally, make sure people have naloxone. Those are good recommendations.

They also recommend beefing up law enforcement. Now, realistically, which of those recommendations will Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III be implementing? Hmm. And of course it is the president. We don't really know what he's talking about half the time. Let's just say, we need to push hard for effective policies. This task force on violent crime, that's going to be talking about marijuana, we already know what's going to happen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is going to trash the recommendations, if they ever get made publicly, and if they don't, well, he'll just say he's implementing them as he goes along, and we don't get a chance to read the book to find out if it's true or not.

I know. Cheery soul, aren't I? But hey, I'm going to be up in Seattle in a week with a hundred thousand of my best friends, talking to them about legalization, and about harm reduction, and about how so far we've had some success, but we have so very much farther to go. And that's my speech. Well, I hope to see you there, up in Seattle, August 18, 19, and 20, and, yeah. Remember: Stay hydrated, stay cool. It's very hot out there.

And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies, I've been your host Doug McVay. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are also available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about 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.