A lot comes to mind when one thinks of Oakland: Black Panthers, high crime, murdered journalists, posh white enclaves surrounded by ghettos with hipsters on the edges of the ghettos. Speaking of hipsters, Oakland now has a new claim to fame: “medical” marijuana:
Oakland has stayed at the forefront of the cannabis legalization movement, with advocates and city government working hand in hand for more than 15 years.
Now, folks will finally get the chance to light up outside City Hall. Legally, that is.
A cannabis street fair touted as the first in the nation is set for this weekend, featuring speakers, music, booths and vendors. But perhaps the most unusual attraction will be the “215 area,” a designated spot directly in front of City Hall where those with a valid medical cannabis card will be able to ingest, smoke or vaporize their pot. There will be devices to help folks make their own hash, a marijuana derivative. The open-air lounge, so to speak, is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.
The “215” in the name is a reference to Proposition 215, the 1996 state ballot measure that legalized personal use of medical marijuana.
“Patients need to take their medicine when they need to,” said Kim Cue, a Berkeley resident who is chief executive of the International Cannabis & Hemp Expo, which starts Saturday at noon. “Being a patient myself, that’s something that’s mandatory.”
In the years since voters approved Prop. 215, Oakland has increasingly found itself at the forefront of a fight to test the limits of the law. The city is believed by Oakland’s elected officials and cannabis activists to be the first in the nation to license dispensaries. A battle with the federal government involving an early cannabis-buying cooperative in Oakland went to the Supreme Court in 2001 – which the dispensary lost. City voters in 2004 passed Measure Z, making possession of small amounts of pot the lowest priority for police. Underground pot clubs have been operating ever since. In 2009, Oakland voters passed a measure to tax and regulate cannabis businesses – the first such tax in the country.
The city also has an array of cannabis-related businesses, particularly in a section of downtown known as Oaksterdam. The city’s pot identity is something the expo’s promoters, as well as locals, want to tout.
“Oakland needs to be the tourist destination for cannabis,” said Salwa Ibrahim, who handles government relations for Oaksterdam University, which trains students for the industry. “We felt like a street fair for the cannabis industry would help solidify that.”
Photographers in Oakland aspiring for a shot of someone legally smoking marijuana in front of city hall had the opportunity snatched away by officials during a downtown Hemp Expo over the weekend.Though the city hosted the two-day International Cannabis and Hemp Expo, which spanned several blocks of Frank Ogawa Plaza and included an area where medical marijuana patients could smoke in public, photographers and videographers were prohibited from capturing images of people smoking with city hall in the background.“It’s not that we don’t want that picture. It’s that we try to keep this area of city hall, a public park, free of smoke and inhalation.” Arturo Sanchez, Asst. to the Oakland City Administrator.