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February 10, 2011 at 3:30 PM

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Hempfest sues Seattle over refusal to grant permits

Posted by Lynn Thompson

Organizers of the annual Hempfest celebration in Seattle are suing over the city's refusal to grant permits for what would be its 20th anniversary festival in August.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, says the city cited a construction project at Myrtle Edwards Park as the reason to deny the permits, even though the project hasn't yet been sent out to bid.

Hempfest, an annual two-day event dedicated to education and reform of marijuana laws, has been held at Myrtle Edwards Park on the Seattle waterfront for all but one of the past 19 years. It features concerts and speakers advocating decriminalization of marijuana use.

Vivian McPeak, the executive director of the all-volunteer festival, said organizers have been searching for an alternative venue in the city but haven't found one. The group approached the Seattle Center, and offered to hold the festival two weeks earlier, but no agreement could be reached.

"This was supposed to be the 20th anniversary. We had big acts, big name bands scheduled to come in here, and it's all falling apart. If you don't have a date, you don't have anything," McPeak said.

The lawsuit says city officials repeatedly canceled meetings and failed to act on the permit application within the required 60 days. Additionally, the suit says the city refused to adjust its planned construction project at Myrtle Edwards Park, even though the planning has been under way for five years.

The lawsuit calls the city's runwillingness to delay construction, or to stage the work to accomodate Hempfest, "unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious."

Hempfest also sued the city in 2006 when construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park also threatened to close Myrtle Edwards Park. The city worked out an agreement that allowed festival organizers adequate space to stage the event. That lawsuit was withdrawn.

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