The Columbian / Associated Press

Olympia Hempfest offers high times all weekend at Heritage Park

Olympia — Despite legalization of marijuana in Washington state, Olympia Hempfest still embraces some of its rebellious roots.

The two-day celebration of cannabis culture kicked off Saturday with plenty of live music, pipes, clothing and more. Although public marijuana consumption is not allowed, attendees could still whiff plenty of sweet-smelling smoke that occasionally mixed with the aroma of garlic hemp fries from the munchie booths.

Jerry Converse has run a booth called Tie-Dye Mafia “since the beginning” of Olympia Hempfest and makes all the shirts himself. Some shirts pay homage to music icons like Jerry Garcia and Bob Marley, while others put a stoner twist on familiar cartoons.

Converse was wearing a shirt that depicted classic “Flintstones” characters Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble and Dino holding fat joints while cruising in a topless Volkswagen bus beneath the words “Yabba Dabba Doobie.”

“We’re still thumbing our nose at the feds,” said Converse, referring to marijuana’s still-illegal status at the federal level.

For others, cannabis is also serious business. Attending her first Hempfest was Anne Sulton, co-owner of A Bud and Leaf, one of two recreational marijuana retailers in Olympia. She was impressed by the peaceful crowd and said the event embodies an expression of freedom that Americans often take for granted.

“I never thought I’d see in my lifetime a black president or legal marijuana,” said Sulton, who runs the store on Lilly Road with her husband, James.

Sulton, a retired civil rights attorney, hopes her business can be a role model in the legal marijuana community. A Bud and Leaf’s five employees earn $15 an hour and are part of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. In addition, the Sultons may be the only African-Americans owners in the state’s recreational retail business, she said.

Sulton also praised the state’s strict laws and accountability system that track all legal cannabis products from seed to sale. As someone who has advocated for legal marijuana for years, Sulton predicts an eventual domino effect for legalization in other states that could further diminish the black market’s influence on the industry.

“I like the fact that the state has very tough rules,” she said, noting the legitimacy that comes with those laws. “They’re complex, and they should be.”

One of the main attractions at Hempfest is the “medication station” sponsored by Rainier Xpress, a medical marijuana dispensary in Olympia. Rainier Xpress owner Patrick Seifert said he enjoys coming back to Hempfest every year to give people with proper authorization – especially veterans – a safe place to consume marijuana.

The dispensary also hosts a support group for veterans called Twenty22Many (pronounced “twenty-two too many”), which has a visible presence at this year’s Olympia Hempfest. The group was started in response to a report that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide daily because of issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I just love being here to help people out,” Seifert said Saturday. “That’s what it’s all about.”