National group takes on Seattle Hempfest, denounces 'corporate pot'

    Seattle Hempfest 2013 (KOMO photo)

    SEATTLE - A national organization is critical of this weekend's Hempfest event in Seattle, and is paying for ads in at least one Seattle publication encouraging people to reconsider using marijuana.

    According to the group called SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), events like Hempfest are enabling the next "big tobacco."

    "Well you know, Hempfest is thought of as the old festival of people who just like to smoke pot and use hemp, and 'what's the big deal?'" says SAM President Kevin Sabet. "In reality, if you look at the sponsors, they've been taken over by corporate pot."

    Sabet, who's been a White House drug policy advisor for former presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, fears a "big marijuana" much like "big tobacco." He claims his group doesn't support re-criminalizing marijuana.

    "While we don't want people thrown in prison for marijuana or criminalized, we also think that the marijuana industry should not grow to be another tobacco industry," Sabet tells KOMO.

    Initiative 502, which legalized recreational use of marijuana in Washington, doesn't allow for large companies outside of the state to sell products in this state. The law is clear that marijuana must be produced and packaged here in order to be sold here.

    "We've been targeted by SAM? I'm so honored, I think we hit the big-time," responds Vivian McPeak, founder of Seattle Hempfest.

    According to it's website, Seattle Hempfest is now in its 26th year, and is billed as the world's largest annual gathering advocating decriminalization of marijuana.

    McPeak calls SAM "a newer version of a second wave of prohibitionist's propaganda."

    He says Hempfest's message has always been to legalize and tax marijuana, but in a sensible way.

    "We appreciate the free publicity," McPeak tells KOMO. "But they're just off-target with everything they do and say."

    This year's Hempfest begins Friday in Seattle's Myrtle Edwards Park.

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