Yesterday 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."
photo by Pete Santos/Seattle Hempfest Vivian McPeak
"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 these 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. He 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 shutdown 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."
While not illegal -- even the Times reporter noted the naturopath that wrote his authorization "followed the new requirements that had just been passed by the legislature" -- the sketchy setup was enough to give festival organizers pause. Here's the new wording of the Hempfest vendor guidelines:
Providing of medical recommendations at Seattle Hempfest is not permitted. While this activity is not illegal, it gives a perception of inappropriateness and reinforces a cynical view of the integrity of the medical cannabis authorization process. You are welcome to provide information at your booth and direct those requesting medical authorizations to your off site medical office.McPeak says the downside of the new rules 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.
The pot authorizations were previously offered by contractors of the 4Evergreen Group, which bills itself as "The remier Medical Cannabis Patient Network." The group did not respond to an email and voice message seeking comment for this story.
Although Hempfest is just one week away, Department of Health spokesman Tim Church told Seattle Weekly yesterday 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."