HIGH TIMES and their events are having a rough go of it lately. The all-things-weed publication had to withdraw from Washington and Oregon last year after failing to secure locations for their Cannabis Cup events. And amid complaints, their annual 4/20 party had to move to a new location in Colorado. You might be wondering: When will the long-running pot magazine be able to hold an event with thousands of revelers consuming cannabis openly in Oregon?
They did already, nearly 20 years ago. And I was there.
The event was called WHEE: World Hemp Expo Extravaganja. Let this serve as proof that stupid, weed-themed wordplay did not begin when legalization occurred.
High Times produced this gathering, which was held on a private 30-acre parcel of land owned by Bill Conde in Harrisburg, Oregon—15 miles from Eugene. The event ran July 18-20, 1997, and nearly 20,000 folks attended. If you guessed there was tie-dye, chillums, and converted school buses, you are so right. Sadly, I was rocking all three.
There were some great speakers—Dennis Peron, Jack Herer, Ken Kesey, Paul Krassner, and John Trudell. The music included Fishbone, Super Sonic Soul Pimps, String Cheese Incident, and old-school Portland rockers Calobo, along with many others. It was hot and dusty, and everywhere you went, dazed and sweaty people were smoking nonstop, freely and openly.
Perhaps too freely. I repeatedly had to deal with food vendors who had gotten so high they forgot to turn on their cooking equipment. "Oh wow, man, that's on me," said one not-at-all-lost-just-wandering food booth operator when I pointed out he had handed me a frozen-solid burrito. "It's gonna take a couple of hours for the solar stove to heat up. Do you want to bring that back then?" No thanks, this refried bean popsicle should be just fine, Woodstock.
When the event was announced, a large group of growers I knew asked me to front them tickets, which ran about $800 after service charges. As I was rolling in my aforementioned converted school bus, the plan was for me to bring in everyone's sleeping bag, tents, and so on, and they could meet me there to collect their gear and pay me for the tickets.
No one else had arrived by the time we set up camp, so I made a call to the main grower who had requested tickets. "Hey, man, it's too hot for us to be able to leave the gardens, so we can't make it, sorry." I asked what I should do about the nearly 20 extra tickets I had bought.
"Take a look in Dave's bag. That should more than square us." Unzipping the large Army-issued duffel, I was happily surprised to see a gallon Ziploc stuffed with beautiful, sticky, pungent bud. I was equally surprised to see another beneath that. And then another, followed by, oh, about 10 more.
I ran back to the pay phone and calmly, cooly called Dave.
"What the FUCK, Dave?" I shrieked. "It looks a Mexican cartel gift basket!"
"We figured people might need green, man. See who you can hook up, and keep the cash to cover the tickets."
I considered this proposition, and not seeing any police, grabbed about an ounce and set off to walk the lines of tents and buses. The problem was that nobody was short of smoke. In fact, there was such an abundance that people were lined up to have photos of their pot taken at the Cannabis Culture magazine booth. No one was looking to buy any weed.
Except for Most Obvious Undercover Agent Ever, AKA Hippie Serpico. His tie-dye shirt still had the crease marks of a brand-new, unlaundered shirt, along with his crisp chinos. "What is going on, my brother?" he boomed upon seeing me. "This is so great, right? SAY—you wouldn't know where a fellow traveler could score a sack, do you? I have cash!" I shook my head no, and watched as he walked 10 feet down the row and started in with the same rap.
I sold zero weed that weekend, but I didn't need to buy any for personal use for the rest of the year. And that was the last time I wore tie-dye.