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Seattle's Hempfest celebrates new law, mellows pot activists

In contrast to last year's Hempfest rally in Seattle, which pitted activists in favor of legalizing marijuana against activists concerned about potential harm to the medical marijuana industry, this year's event focuses on public education.

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Dave Stewart of Seattle, Washington, smokes a marijuana cigarette during the Hempfest rally in downtown Seattle, August 16. Thousands gathered for the annual rally since Washington state and Colorado passed initiatives to legalize marijuana for recreational use in November 2012.

Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters

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Pot smoke wafted over thousands of revelers gathered at Seattle's downtown waterfront to kick off the first Hempfest rally since Washington state and Colorado passed initiatives to legalize marijuana for recreational use last November.

The mellow mood among the revelers swaying to reggae music on Friday was in stark contrast to the harsh vibe at last year's event, which pitted pot activist against pot activist in a fight over the state ballot measure that some saw as a threat to medical marijuana producers and users.

"Last year, every five steps it was like, 'Vote yes!' Vote no!' Vote yes!'" said Katelyn Cherry, 18, who ate shaved ice from a cone while sitting on a patch of grass next to a glass bong. "There's none of that going on anymore, so that's nice."

This year's Hempfest — expected to draw as many as 85,000 visitors in each of its three days — is meant to celebrate the new law and help heal the rifts of last year's campaign. It also aims to oppose marijuana's continued federal status as a dangerous narcotic with no legitimate medical applications, said Vivian McPeak, the event's longtime executive director.

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