At first, when people were lined up to get into the 22nd-annual stoner celebration that is Hempfest in Seattle on Saturday morning, it looked like the local cops were all fired up to harsh people’s mellow, right as they walked through the gates and got their bags searched.
But then something weird happened. One of the cops cut into a cardboard box stuffed with little bags of Doritos. Then he picked up a bag, and offered it to the attendee who happened to be closest to him. Then he grabbed another bag, and gave that one away, too. Bag after bag after bag was offered to anyone who dared reach a hand out. He gave them to people wearing T-shirts that said NORML, that said “High as fuck.” He handed them to people actually carrying giant spliffs of what was almost certainly marijuana in their hands as they walked past.
This had to be some kind of weird mind-control trick, figured the more paranoid festivalgoers. They studied the packages carefully, searching for syringe marks or suspicious powders.
A-ha! There it was, a sticker. Right on the front of the package. This is why you can’t trust the police. This is shameless propaganda. Some ridiculous attempt to ...
“HEMPFESTERS! We thought you might be hungry,” the message read. “We also thought now might be a good time for a refresher on the do’s and don’ts of I-502.”
I-502, for the uninitiated, is the initiative Washington voters approved last November that legalized marijuana in the Evergreen State. But pot isn't legal legal—you can’t just walk around smoking marijuana wherever you feel like it. You can’t sell it, and you can’t even grow it. In fact, there’s no legal way to obtain marijuana in Washington at this point, not until the state sets up licensed dispensaries where people can buy weed under strict state supervision (and with hefty taxes deducted).
All of which makes the legalization of marijuana in Washington a fairly hazy proposition, at least for now. Hence, the Doritos.
“DON’TS,” the stickers read. “Don’t drive while high. Don’t give, sell or shotgun weed to people under 21. Don’t use pot in public. You could be cited but we’d rather give you a warning.”
(“Shotgunning” weed is when you take a huge puff of marijuana and then, instead of blowing it up into the sky, you blow it in someone else’s mouth. It’s basically like recycling.)
“DO’S: Do listen to Dark Side of the Moon at a reasonable volume. Do enjoy Hempfest.”
The label also included a link to another hilarious and even more detailed description of what legalization means and what it doesn’t. And that was it. No sneak attacks. No planted cocaine. Just cops, handing out chips.
Welcome to “Operation Orange Fingers.” Seriously – that’s the name.
“This is kind of a captive audience,” explained Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. “Hopefully we’ll run out quick. I’m in the public-safety business. I’m not in the product-distribution business.”
Operation Orange Fingers was a last-minute idea, Whitcomb said. The cops, of course, always attend Hempfest, not to muck up the vibe but to make sure no big, important laws are being flouted. There are always people openly smoking pot here. The police don’t ever bust people for that.
So nothing’s different this year, Whitcomb said, except that it’s now an infraction to smoke marijuana outside and not a misdemeanor. Police will only hand out warnings this weekend, though, not tickets. Unless you’re under 21 of course, in which case it’s not legal to possess weed no matter what.
Why Doritos? Other options were considered.
“Should we go with Munchies?” the team wondered, according to Whitcomb, before dismissing the idea as “way too obvious.”
Because PepsiCo. agreed on short notice to kick down a palette of chips at a nice price, Doritos won the day. Reaction to this message-driven generosity was a little mixed.
“It’s one of the reasons I got here early,” said Douglas Sapp of Bremerton, who got in line at 6 a.m. Saturday, four hours before the gates opened. “I want my own bag. I’m going to keep it.”
“Cops are fucking dicks,” said 14-year-old John Landis of Bremerton, apropos of nothing.
“It’s cool that they just gave me munchies,” added Amber Banks, 22. “But I don’t understand why they would want to give me munchies. It just says 'Don’t drive while high.' It seems like I would know that.”