Solstice Vice President Alex Cooley has had several lives in cannabis– as a patient, advocate, consultant, access-point owner, and large-scale grower– and he has brought each of these incarnations to Hempfest. Here Cooley riffs on this year’s theme, “Time, Place and Manner,” his newest role as guest speaker, and how he thinks the Seattle Hempfest festival needs to evolve to serve the changing face of cannabis:
Q: In essence, what is Hempfest to you?
AC: Hempfest is a “Protest-ival.” It’s a free speech event, a social gathering, and a celebration. But to me it’s primarily an opportunity to educate and for vendors to sell products. The theme this year was “Time, Place and Manner,” which I think is timely and appropriate. It’s something people need to be conscious of.
We need to have more conversations about positive models of behavior in public. We need to be respectful representatives as ‘Citizens of Cannabis.’ It means being responsible with the image you present of cannabis.
With these themes, it’s about what underlying questions and dialogues are occurring in the greater culture regarding cannabis, and less about what’s at the forefront– what’s seen and experienced at the festival. I would love to see the theme– and that conversation in particular– be more at the forefront. There is a declared theme and focus, but we don’t necessarily follow up on it.
Q: Tell us a little about your own history with Hempfest in Seattle.
AC: I started going as a teenager, at 16 or 17, and was one of the little stoner kids. Frankly, I wish I hadn’t been as high and could have been more present. Hempfest is where I started to learn a lot about cannabis, and if I’d really been there I would have learned more. And then, as I got older, I attended more as a fist-in-the-air advocate for cannabis, then as a business owner pushing for the legitimacy of cannabis, and for the past few years, I’ve been an invited speaker. So as I’ve grown in the industry, I’ve been able to see it from all these perspectives.
I believe the real goal is to educate and shape society. However, at a certain point, I didn’t feel like the festival was aligned with Solstice’s mission of normalizing cannabis and wasn’t the example we needed. When I was asked to speak, three years ago, I had to consider that. Will and I discussed it and, in the end, we believe cannabis culture as a whole is growing up and becoming more mature. So we welcomed the opportunity. I love the engagement.
Q: Do you think I-502 being put into effect in Washington state has had any impact this year? Did you see any difference?
AC: It felt calmer, a little more grown up. I feel like some of the sheen of consuming cannabis is wearing off. That’s a side effect of normalization, which is good. And you saw there were better options provided for people to consume; there were smoking areas and a dab bar. So that meant, “Hey, you don’t need to bring a rig and a butane torch. We’ve got safe equipment and a place to consume it.”
This is a new conversation: Look, we can pour you a shot. You don’t need to pull out of a bottle and hide it anymore.
And I didn’t see as many teenagers. I think a lot about how that aspect will evolve– kids and cannabis.
How do we have a conversation with an 18 year old about cannabis? Because, if we are trying to legalize cannabis, then we are sending an implicit message that cannabis is okay – but we want to communicate that it’s not necessarily okay for people that young to consume cannabis recreationally.
For this festival to be successful and sustainable, we need to create rules and boundaries. If we’re serious about “Time, Place, and Manner,” then we can’t have a 14 year old ripping bong hits in the middle of the park. The question is, “What is a model of responsible consumption?”
Q: How would you like to see Hempfest evolve?
AC: It’s about focusing on long-term goals. For us, that means sustainability in all areas of the industry: How cannabis is grown, sold, and consumed. And I’d like to see that reflected at Hempfest.
We want to further our ability to engage with cannabis as a civil liberty. Hempfest remains a public protest because in most parts of the world we’re still not able to freely purchase, possess, or consume cannabis. So we have to start there. But I don’t want people to reenact this Cheech and Chong parody of a stoner stereotype. While it might have been fun to mess around like that, we can’t afford to act like that now.
We have to be responsible and professional with our consumption. We’re coming out of something like Alcohol Prohibition, which ended in 1933. We’re basically in 1932. We’re at a tipping point and everything we do matters.
In terms of laws and regulation – I imagine 20 or 30 years from now we’ll look back and consider some of it overreaching, draconian. But we need to send the message that we can be trusted with this plant. That’s what it will take to normalize cannabis.
Alex’s complete speech has been included in this post as an embedded audio file.
Alex Cooley is the co-founder of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics, and has created or co-founded some of the first professional and legitimate medical cannabis companies in Washington state. He has advocated for medical cannabis as an industry, most notably as a contributing writer of WA SB5073 and the “Collective Garden Model,” which resulted in the method for safe access to cannabis for qualifying patients in Washington. In 2011, Alex Cooley co-founded Solstice, where he oversees production, industry outreach, and expansion of the first-ever fully permitted cannabis production facility in Washington. From inception, Solstice’s goal has been to cultivate the highest quality cannabis, including the award-winning, CBD-rich Sour Tsunami #3. As part of Solstice’s mission to be a positive catalyst in the cannabis industry and offer a new message about cannabis, Alex champions environmentally responsible practices, serves as an adviser to state and local officials, and continues to advocate for patients’ rights.