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Hempfest sues city in effort to obtain 2011 permits

February 11th, 2011 by Thea

Seattle’s annual cannabis festival and reform rally, Hempfest, has filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn, the director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, the director of Seattle Center, and the chairperson of the Seattle Special Events Committee over permitting issues for the 2011 festival, the group announced in a press release this week.

Festival goers gather at the booth-lined Myrtle Edwards Park at Hempfest 2009.

The suit, filed in United States District Court Thursday, “seeks relief under the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution, and was filed in an effort to obtain a 2011 permit to produce the annual free speech rally to reform America’s laws prohibiting cannabis,” the group wrote.

The festival, which has been an annual event in Seattle since 1991, has been held on the waterfront at Myrtle Edwards Park since 1995. Last year the Seattle Special Events Committee requested that the group seek out alternative locations for the festival in 2011–it’s 20th anniversary year. From Hempfest:

Upon the suggestion of the Special Events Committee, Hempfest contacted the Seattle Center in October 2010 to see if that venue would be suitable for 2011. After a few months Seattle Center representatives decided the center could not adequately host Hempfest until 2013 because of pre-existing reservations on some facilities as well as planned Seattle Center construction.

When the group filed a permit to host the festival at its usual spot at Myrtle Edwards Park, they were told that a conflicting construction project (the West Thomas Overpass Project, a pedestrian overpass that will link Lower Queen Anne with the waterfront, and was given the green light back in August) may interfere with the group’s plans to hold the festival in late August, its usual time.

Artists rendering of the West Thomas Overpass project, which would run from Thomas Street on Queen Anne all the way across to Myrtle Edwards Park.

From Hempfest:

The suit asks the city to issue an appropriate permit for Seattle Hempfest in August 2011 and, if necessary, to enjoin Seattle from implementing the “West Thomas Overpass project” in such fashion as to interfere with the use of Myrtle Edwards Park in August 2011. Planned summer construction of the sky-bridge in Myrtle Edwards Park, the location of Hempfest since 1995, has displaced the mammoth event which routinely draws more than 100,000 attendees annually.

Well aware of the slow-moving nature of the Seattle Special Events permit process, Hempfest submitted its special event application earlier than ever, in early November 2010, hoping for a decision within the 60-day period set forth by law. However, after months of negotiations Hempfest organizers find themselves with neither a date or a venue for the annual summer “protestival,” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“It is with heavy hearts that we take this action against the city that we love,” Hempfest executive director Vivian McPeak said in the release. “We thoroughly wanted to spend the months leading up to Hempfest’s 20th anniversary working on the best event ever. Without a date or a venue that is almost impossible.”

“We are very excited about the prospect of a new foot bridge into Myrtle Edwards Park, but after initially being told by the city that the project would not impact our event, we were suddenly informed we needed to hold the event in June or take Hempfest somewhere else. We’ve been, and we still are looking for alternatives to Myrtle Edwards Park. However, there are few venues that are adequate and after many months of meetings we are simply running out of time. We hope we can work with the city to find a workable resolution soon and get back to producing our event,” McPeak added.

Hempfest organizers are holding a members party tonight, Friday, February 11 to discuss the lawsuit and other organizational news. The event will take place at Studio 7 in SoDo, at 110 S. Horton St., starting at 7 p.m. More information about this event can be found here.

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