Pubdate: Thu, 18 Sep 2014
Source: Sacramento News & Review (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: Ngaio Bealum


Our Writer Goes to Washington to Explore Marijuana Legalization

SN&R's resident cannabis expert goes to Washington-the state-and 
dishes on the marijuana-legalization experiment up north

Carl Sagan once said, "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, 
you must first invent the universe." I have a similar observation 
about marijuana activists: If you ask them how to make a pie, they 
will tell you how to grow a tree. Most of their stories are full of 
tangents, sidebars and digressions. It's not that they ramble and are 
unfocused, but that they feel you need to have the whole story so you 
can form your own ideas. I will try not to ramble too much, but I 
have been a pot activist for more than 20 years, so rambling is kinda my thing.

I am headed to the Seattle Hempfest to entertain the crowds, smoke 
the herb and see some friends. The plan is to try some of this new, 
legal recreational grass up there in Washington, too, and get a feel 
for the current state of activism on the West Coast.

My first stop is supposed to be at the CannaCon in Tacoma, which 
bills itself as the nation's largest "cannabusiness and lifestyle 
expo." But, honestly, the real first stop is at the Main Street 
Marijuana dispensary in downtown Vancouver, Wash. And when I say 
downtown, I mean smack-dab in the heart of it. Right next to a used 
record store and across the street from a pizza place. That's a 
stoner trifecta, and big ups to the city of Vancouver for allowing a 
marijuana dispensary in such a central location.

I really want to try some of this legal weed, hunt through some 
records and get a slice, but the store is closed for the weekend 
because they ran out of grass. Sigh. So, I buy a Slim Harpo CD from 
the record store and drive up to Tacoma Dome for the CannaCon.

One bad thing about legal weed

Before I leave Vancouver, I actually put all my cannabis in the trunk 
of my car. It's not that I'm worried about getting caught with weed; 
marijuana is legal to possess in Washington state and the police can 
no longer use a phrase like "I smell marijuana" as an excuse to 
search your car.

But the law also states that all it takes to be convicted of driving 
under the influence of cannabis is a THC blood level of 5 nanograms 
or higher. This is what is known as a "per se" DUI. There's no trial. 
If you have 5 nanograms of THC in your bloodstream, you are guilty. 
In fact, according to Initiative 502-that's the law that voters 
passed last year to legalize weed-if you are under 21 and you have 
any THC in your system at all, you are automatically guilty of 
driving under the influence.

It's up for debate how much THC it takes to create impairment. One 
big problem with enforcement is that THC stays in your system long 
after the high has worn off. In 2013, after marijuana was legalized 
but before the shops were open, cops arrested more people for 
marijuana DUI than they had in the two prior years, according to a 
report in The Christian Science Monitor.

The thing is, pretty much anyone that uses marijuana every day has at 
least 5 nanograms in their system.

The Seattle Times also has reported that some law-enforcement 
officials are still a bit sore about cannabis being legalized, and 
some police officers are looking for excuses to arrest people for 
cannabis driving under the influence. Some friends in Seattle told me 
about a guy that got pulled over by a state trooper and was arrested 
for suspicion of DUI because he had a "green film" on his tongue. We 
were all pretty stoned and I thought they were kidding, but I looked 
it up, and sure enough, it was true. A TV station reported on it. At 
least in California and Oregon, if you get arrested for suspicion of 
DUI, the police have to prove you were impaired. Washington cops 
don't have to do that.

I ask my friend and superhero cannabis activist lawyer for the people 
Douglas Hiatt about Washington's DUI laws. He put it like this: "If 
you are under 21 and you have any THC in your system at all, you're fucked."

"DUIs aren't like possession charges; you can't make them go away," 
Hiatt explains.

Damn. "Don't give them an excuse" is my new mantra.

Business is greening

After an uneventful yet pleasant drive (Slim Harpo is a boogie master 
and a King Bee), I pull up to the Tacoma Dome (free parking-nice!) 
and head to the convention. CannaCon is definitely all business. 
There are booths with every sort of cannabis-related product you can 
imagine. Dirt, seeds. Lights. Packaging. Security. More dirt. 
Nutrients. Point-of-sale systems. Security. Lawyers. I was reminded 
of the saying: "When everyone is looking for gold, it's a good time 
to be in the pick-and-shovel business."

I'm surprised to see more than a few marketing experts and brand 
cultivators at the convention, and this is because I am used to the 
marijuana industry being somewhat decentralized and anonymous. In 
fact, in the early days of dispensaries in California, it was the 
people with recognizable brands that got busted.

Tainted Edibles immediately comes to mind. My homie Mickey Martin was 
arrested and convicted in federal court for making and selling 
cannabis-infused chocolate bars in 2007. He was lucky to get a good 
judge and only got 24 months: 12 at a halfway house and 12 on home 
confinement, plus five years probation.

Most of the folks I knew back in the day tried to keep a low profile. 
Now, everyone wants you to know who they are. I suppose this is cool, 
but I worry about what will happen if the laws change, or if the new 
president in 2016 decides that the feds aren't going to allow the 
states to regulate marijuana. We have been lucky so far, but I 
remember the medical-cannabis dispensary boom after Barack Obama was 
elected-and the Drug Enforcement Administration crackdown that 
happened shortly afterward. Legal cannabis is not yet a done deal.

During the first two months since legal-weed sales kicked off on July 
8, Washington dispensaries sold $12.1 million in cannabis, according 
to the state's Liquor Control Board. Not bad at all, considering that 
only 18 of the 40 approved pot shops have opened so far. What's even 
crazier, sales doubled in August over July. The state projects nearly 
$2 million in taxes.

That's all a lot of green, but my lawyer friend Hiatt calls 
Washington's weed "pot for the privileged." That's what my pal (and 
cannabis lawyer) Jim Steinborn calls it, too. It's not true 
legalization, they say.

"Recreational marijuana is about $25 a gram. But you can go down the 
street to the medical dispensary and buy the best cannabis in the 
state for about $8 a gram if you're a patient," Steinborn says.

Indeed, one of the big sticking points in the lead-up to the 2012 
vote on I-502's legalization was that the recreational clubs were 
going to force the medical clubs to close. That hasn't happened yet, 
but the state is looking hard at the idea. Of course Washington wants 
to maximize profits, but at what cost?

And don't forget: Marijuana has been an underground commodity for 
decades. If the taxes are too high, people will just go back to the 
underground. All of the states looking to legalize would do well to 
recognize that reality.

Dabs of activism

Whenever someone tells me that stoners are lazy, I tell them to go to 
the Seattle Hempfest. It is consistently one of the biggest and most 
well-run festivals on the West Coast. Started in 1991 as the 
Washington Hemp Expo with a handful of volunteers and about 500 
attendees, the Hempfest has grown into a three-day event with seven 
stages, thousands of volunteers and over 250,000 attendees. Not only 
that, it is a cannabis-activism incubator. Activists from all over 
the world show up to cross-pollinate and share ideas about how to 
re-legalize (marijuana was legal in the United States until 1937) cannabis.

As I walk through the park enjoying the sights and sounds and smells, 
I bump into hard-core cannabis activists from all over the country. 
There's Keith Stroup, one of the founding members of NORML, or the 
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I talk to him 
for a little bit, but being an East Coast guy, he's not really up on 
what's happening on the West Coast, although he is very excited about 
all of the legalization movements catching fire across the country. 
There's author and raconteur Ed Rosenthal, the "Guru of Ganja." And 
Don E. Wirtshafter, a fantastic lawyer and advocate from Ohio, is 
also on the grounds.

Most of the serious activists and advocates hang out at the 
Hemposium, a big tent at the front of the fest. The Hemposium hosts 
various panels and discussion about marijuana and hemp and the best 
ways to go about legalizing-and how to avoid arrest, how to talk 
about pot with the media, the medicinal properties of cannabis, and on and on.

I wander a little deeper into the fest, past the minidoughnut and 
fried PB&J stands. Not too far from the main stage is the THCF, or 
The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, booth. Sitting inside are Paul and 
Theresa Stanford, who've been instrumental in Oregon's 
cannabis-legalization movement. They produce the Portland's 
Hempstalk, run a cable-access TV show dedicated to pot, and they were 
behind the 2012 effort to legalize cannabis in Oregon.

Since they are sitting in the shade and it is about 90 degrees 
outside, I sit down next to Paul to smoke a joint and ask him some questions.

He says he's fired up about Measure 91, the ballot measure to 
legalize marijuana in Oregon, that voters will chime in on this fall. 
"I think this initiative is the best in the country so far. Way 
better than Washington or Colorado. You can possess 8 ounces. You can 
grow four plants. A license to be involved in the cannabis industry 
is only $1,200."

I ask him about the taxes, which have been a bit of a sore spot in 
Washington. He calls the solution simple: Tax "five bucks per plant" 
and charge "$35 per ounce for buds and $10 an ounce for shake." He 
also points out that "Oregon doesn't have a sales tax, so that's it," 
and there shouldn't be any more fees on top of that. We finish the 
joint, and I merge back into the crowd.

Myrtle Edwards Park in Seattle is very narrow, but hella long. From 
tip to tip, it's about a mile and a half. The air is thick with 
smoke, but I seldom see any cops. In fact, the police seem to be 
going out of their way not to hassle anyone.

I remember the early days of the festival, when pot smoking not only 
was not allowed, it was actively discouraged. The cops would show up 
early and arrest a few people for smoking at the beginning. That 
would scare people into refraining for a while, but by the time 
75,000 people have gathered to celebrate cannabis, there's no way 
they can arrest all of us.

I also remember overhearing a conversation between two staffers two 
years ago about how there were no police officers in the park for 
like an hour. Imagine that: 100,000 people in a park smoking weed, 
not one cop, and no major problems. I have never seen one fight at a 
hemp fest. One time, I saw a guy try to snatch a bong from a vendor 
and run off, but the crowd was too thick and he was quickly 
apprehended by the volunteer staff and escorted off the premises.

By the way, the marijuana in Seattle is plentiful and delicious. No 
one seems to have anything from the two legal pot shops that have 
opened so far (as I mentioned above, apparently they have run out of 
supply), although representatives from the Caviar Cone Company 
(branding!) are handing out samples backstage. They are promoting 
their line of flavored joints. Two flavors: raspberry and green 
apple. The smoke is thick like hookah tobacco, and the flavor of the 
joints more than a little sweet, but I can't really taste the weed 
itself. The effects were pretty good, though, and other people seemed 
to really enjoy them. I give one to a young man at the fest, and he 
is very excited. There are plenty of folks walking around trying to 
sell dime bags and medicated edibles. This is frowned upon by the 
festival staff, and people that get caught get escorted out.

One of the new attractions this year is the "bring your own dabs" 
bar. A "dab" is another way to say hash oil. Generally, you scoop a 
glob of hash oil onto a piece of metal and place it onto a heating 
source. The heat vaporizes the hash oil, and you inhale the vapors 
through a tube or a straw. Hash oil is much stronger than weed. It's 
like doing a shot instead of sipping a beer.

There are two different areas with hash oil "rigs" set up, and folks 
are allowed to dab away to their heart's content. I have a few 
samples from a concentrates competition in San Francisco on me, so I 
sit down and d0 a dab or two or three. (It gets a little hazy. I 
remember trading dabs with the dude sitting next to me. He enjoyed my 
award-winning Durban Poison from Bliss Edibles, and I enjoyed his 
whatever it was that he had with him.) We enjoy this at the bar 
provided by the good people from the Have a Heart Cafe, which is a 
chain of medical-cannabis dispensaries in the Seattle area. (A chain? 
My friend Virgil Grant is in prison right now because he had a chain 
of dispensaries in Los Angeles; times are changing.) I peel myself 
away from the bar in search of coffee and minidoughnuts.

How California should legalize it

Later that night, at the party for speakers and VIPs, California Rep. 
Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from Orange County, steps up to 
deliver an impromptu speech. First, he talks about how he is enjoying 
his "gateway drug" of choice: beer. Then, he talks about how 
legalization is on the way in California, and some other stuff. I am 
hella faded at this point, so I don't really listen to all of it, but 
I am happy and proud that a California politician had come up to 
Seattle to show support for the cause.

Seeing the congressman gets me thinking about what legalization in 
California should look like. It's obvious that the Washington and 
Colorado laws, while pretty cool as first steps, don't address some 
of the issues we will have down here.

California is unique in that we have a decades-old, ingrained 
cannabis industry. Saying the words "Humboldt County" to a pot smoker 
is like saying "Napa Valley" to a wine snob. Any law we pass has to 
take that into account. We can't just kick all the people that risked 
their freedom to grow this plant and build this community to the curb.

Also, it turns out that the people buying most of the weed in 
Colorado and Washing-ton are tourists. All of the locals already have 
their connections in place, and the pot shop is an expensive 
convenience. A friend of mine from Portland said she went to the 
Vancouver shop one time because her connect was out of town and she 
was headed to the river. She said the pot was very good but very 
pricey. If California wants a piece of the weed game, they will have 
to find a way to do it that respects the growers and fosters tourism.

I have a friend in southern Oregon that does "Weed & Wine" tours. 
They pick you up in Medford, then roll you around the Rogue Valley, 
stopping at various wineries and medical gardens along the way. 
California needs something like that. We can't stop at recreational 
pot shops. We need farmers markets and "Bud and Breakfast" hotels and 
"Weed of the Month" clubs and "doob ranches" and other things to 
truly bring the recreational-cannabis industry into the future.

I know that legalization in California is on the way. The question 
is: What will it look like? Steve DeAngelo, the dude behind 
Harborside Health Center in Oakland, used to talk about "flipping the 
switch." His concept: The infrastructure is already in place with the 
medical clubs; all the Legislature would have to do is flip the 
switch to make the medical collectives into recreational stores.

Another friend of mine, who has been in the industry longer than I 
have, is sure that George Soros and his money are gonna do some 
hard-core polling, and whatever ideas poll well, those are the ideas 
that will make it onto the ballot. I am not so sure that is the way 
to go. Like I said, California is unique. Hell, some growers don't 
want anything to change. They like being outlaws. I suppose we will 
have to wait and see.

Anyway, my final two days in Washington go by in a haze of pot smoke 
and friendly discussions. A group of activists are trying to get an 
initiative on the ballot that would amend parts of I-502. Some folks 
are talking about opening a private, high-end, members-only pot club. 
I tell myself that one day I will start a Tumblr page dedicated to 
the T-shirts worn at hemp fests.

Before I drive back to Sacramento, I try to hit the recreational 
clubs one more time. The new spot in Bothell has a long line, and the 
owner of the Chevron next door is upset because people keep parking 
at the gas station to go to the pot shop-and they don't buy anything 
at his convenience store. Since I parked at the gas station, I left 
before he could call the tow trucks.

The one in Seattle's south of downtown, or SoDo district, also has a 
very long line. It curves around the building like a movie premiere. 
The club in Vancouver is still closed when I try to go again.

Good thing I have some California weed to tide me over.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom