Saturday morning in Seattle dawned with a haze that didn't originate in Puget Sound. It was the start of Hempfest, the city's annual stoner celebration, and this year's bash was the first since Initiative 502 legalized marijuana use in Washington. Pot enthusiasts were much more free to toke openly than on, say, the first Hempfest in 1991. It was a big (green) day.
But Hempfest began with an ominious feel. There was a security checkpoint, stocked with the natural enemy of the Pacific Northwest stoner: The Seattle PD. "It looked like the local cops were all fired up to harsh people’s mellow," wrote a Daily Beast reporter, "right as they walked through the gates and got their bags searched."
Then cops, strangely, weren't there to confiscate smoking apparatuses or ounces of kush. They instead handed out bags of Doritos. Over 1,000 in all. Paranoid stoners looked for "suspicious powders" and other evidence of trickery. They found this hilarious sticker instead.
Here's a look at the full message on the Doritos bags SPD officers are handing out at Hempfest. pic.twitter.com/b0iOt1LARP— Graham Johnson (@GrahamKIRO7) August 17, 2013
“HEMPFESTERS! We thought you might be hungry,” the message read. “We also thought now might be a good time for a refresher on the do’s and don’ts of I-502.... 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."
It continued: "DO'S: Do listen to Dark Side of the Moon at a reasonable volume. Do enjoy Hempfest.”
The message was amazing. On Saturday, the Seattle PD not only encouraged the use of pot, they treated the whole thing like a friendly neighborhood caretaker. The police didn't aim to make widespread arrests—their stated concern was public safety, an unfortunately overlooked concept during the over-reaches and mass incarcerations of the "War on Drugs." A sea change is occurring. Cops who hand out bags of Doritos and include, on their website, a weed Q&A like the one below...
Can I smoke pot outside my home? Like at a park, magic show, or the Bite of Seattle?
Much like having an open container of alcohol in public, doing so could result in a civil infraction—like a ticket—but not arrest. You can certainly use marijuana in the privacy of your own home. Additionally, if smoking a cigarette isn’t allowed where you are (say, inside an apartment building or flammable chemical factory), smoking marijuana isn’t allowed there either.
What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I’ve got in my trunk?
Under state law, officers have to develop probable cause to search a closed or locked container. Each case stands on its own, but the smell of pot alone will not be reason to search a vehicle. If officers have information that you’re trafficking, producing or delivering marijuana in violation of state law, they can get a warrant to search your vehicle.
SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?
... Would not have existed five years ago. But they do now. And this entire incident is a real glimpse into how every police force will act in 10-15 years.