Last week, the state Department of Health filed charges against two naturopaths who wrote hundreds of medical pot prescriptions at last year's Hempfest. Don't expect a repeat this year: Festival organizers have banned green-card providers because of "a perception of inappropriateness."
Hempfest executive director Vivian McPeak says the decision to prohibit medical authorizations at the Seattle pot extravaganza scheduled for this weekend was made more than three months ago after a vote by the organization's nine-person board of directors. It is not a response to the Department of Health crackdown.
"It's questionable whether a comprehensive field evaluation for an authorization can be done in that environment," McPeak says. "We're not doctors and we're not lawyers, but the appearance of impropriety was enough, even before charges were made."
McPeak says the festival was caught off guard by the same Seattle Times article that sparked the Department of Health's inquiry, in which the reporter wrote about the ease with which he got a prescription.
McPeak speculates that medical pot authorizations have been a part of the festival "for as long as there's been dispensaries in Seattle," but with more than 400 vendors it's difficult to keep track of the services being offered. (Ten vendor booths were shut down last year for selling cannabis and cannabis foods, according to Hempfest's website.)
"To be bluntly honest, this was way off our radar last year when that [Seattle Times] article came out," McPeak says. "Frankly, we didn't realize authorizations were being written at our event. [The article] really kind of sucker-punched us and took us by surprise. We spent several months looking into legality of it all."
McPeak says the downside of barring prescription-writing is that some festival attendees from parts of the state without pot-friendly doctors will now have a harder time getting access to their medicine.
Although Hempfest was a week away, Department of Health spokesman Tim Church told Seattle Weekly last week that the timing of the charges against the naturopaths was purely a coincidence. McPeak, however, is skeptical about that.
"The timing of it seems, let's face it, strategic and coordinated," McPeak says. "Not everybody in this world or community supports what we're doing at Hempfest. We can only assume this was strategically timed."