King5.com

SEATTLE — What started 20 years ago as a festival protesting the criminalization of marijuana is now one of the biggest celebrations of pot in the world.

With an estimated 300,000 visitors expected over a three-day weekend, it seems it’s even big enough to draw politicians testing the waters for candidacy.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) spoke passionately to the audience gathered at the main stage Saturday afternoon.

“Seattle you shook the world once, can you shake it again, I ask you!” he said in support of issues like withdrawal of U.S. military troops around the world, gay rights and even universal health care.

Kucinich did not say if he plans to run for a House seat in Washington in 2012, just that it is a decision he still has to make.

But supporters said appearances of politicians like Kucinich and Mayor Mike McGinn would have been rare to non-existent in the past, and speaks to the evolution of the mindset towards marijuana in Western Washington.

“Clearly public attitudes suggest we have to find a better way of dealing with marijuana than the War on Drugs and prohibition [of marijuana sales].” McGinn said.

McGinn is the first Seattle mayor to address the Hempfest crowd, said organizers, and even graces the cover of Seattle’s Dope Magazine.

“The problem is of course, our law at the city level, the laws at the state level, all exist in a world where it is still illegal at the federal level,” he told the crowd.

In 1998, state lawmakers passed medical marijuana legislation for Washington.

In 2001, Seattle made marijuana the lowest police priority.

In 2008, city leaders said they will no longer prosecute simple possession cases.

In July 2011, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance creating a regulatory framework for medical cannabis operations within city limits.

And one of the big political discussions at Hempfest surrounded Initiative 502, the latest attempt to legalize cannabis.

Other speakers included state representatives Roger Goodman and Mary Lou Dickerson, and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.

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