Pubdate: Thu, 26 Feb 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


Need Weed? Live in Texas? Come to a California

In a past life growing up on the East Coast, I had two cities topping 
my list of places to visit: Montreal and Amsterdam. My reasons were 
as obvious as they were common. In Montreal, the drinking age is 18. 
In Amsterdam, you can buy marijuana in a coffee shop. For a thirsty 
and clear-minded kid in the Boston area, where else do you go to party?

My interest in both places dissipated, for just as obvious reasons. 
World-class Montreal lost its Molson-fueled appeal after I turned 21, 
and trekking to Amsterdam became less imperative right after I moved 
to California.

I had a chance to check out the Amsterdam coffee shops a few years 
ago. And during a four-hour layover in the city, I didn't bother to 
leave the airport. "I can buy all the pot I want at home," I told 
myself. As it is, being the mecca for cannabis tourism is wearing 
thin Amsterdam, in whose mayor nearly shut down High Times' Cannabis 
Cup there this past fall.

This is a cautionary tale for California. Money from marijuana 
tourists is one of the economic benefits promised by legalization. 
Just look at Denver. Pot tourism is happening right now in the Bay 
Area. Almost anyone can fly from anywhere in the United States and 
easily access all the high-grade medical cannabis they can carry from 
license collectives, without ever patronizing the black market. All 
they need to do is come to a Cannabis Cup.

Nobody does melodrama better than local television news stations. And 
NBC Bay Area's "Investigate Unit" did not disappoint with its 
coverage of the HempCon Cup in San Jose.

HempCon's three-day event was held in the city's downtown convention 
center, but the real action went down outside the venue. Every 
approach to the event was lousy with touts handing out referrals to 
pot docs.Using hidden cameras and a producer willing to meet 
"undercover" with a pot doctor in a nearby motel room, NBC was able 
to report last week that "pretty much anyone" can get a medical 
cannabis recommendation.

Shady doctors who pump out recs without looking at medical records 
make up "a million, I would say even a billion-dollar industry in 
California," Patrick Vanier, a Santa Clara County deputy district 
attorney tasked with narcotic enforcement, told NBC (we can only hope 
his math is less fuzzy in court). This has been a fact for some time. 
But as a source of the cheap sanctimony that evening broadcasts feast 
upon, cannabis still cannot be beat. And NBC was sure to milk it.

"It's a farce," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo fumed on camera. The 
station's chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski ended his 
report with the straight-faced declamation that the $80 
recommendation his producer had procured "will be destroyed and not 
used to purchase marijuana."

That means they missed out on real news: The wall-to-wall cannabis 
bazaar going on inside the convention center. For three days, 
collectives sold flowers by the ounce, sheets of concentrates, and 
super-powered edibles to any of HempCon's 24,500 confirmed visitors 
who had a recommendation.

This didn't used to happen. At the first HempCon in 2010, no sales of 
any kind transpired. At a cup event in Oakland one year, I witnessed 
a vendor being told to shut down his booth and leave immediately 
after a security guard witnessed a cash-to-fist sale.

Somewhere along the line, someone had a change of heart. Now, events 
like this provide unparalleled variety for a cannabis connoisseur who 
doesn't have a BevMo for weed. For a weed smoker in a dry state, the 
"kid in a candy store" metaphor is literal. And for pot producers, 
it's more foot traffic than the mall at Christmas.

Neither HempCon nor any other dispensary should be held accountable 
for a recommendation's "legitimacy." Under patient confidentiality 
laws, it's doubtful they could be responsible even if they wanted to 
appease haters like Liccardo, who like to point to scenes like this 
as "proof" that cannabis is already recreational in California.

But HempCon at least is reserved for Californians. Organizers told me 
that in addition to recommendations, every entrant into the pot 
bazaar needed a valid California ID.

This is based on an interpretation of Proposition 215 that says 
medical marijuana is reserved for "seriously ill Californians." That 
line, however, is just in the law's preamble, and is "not legally 
binding," attorney Lauren Vazquez recently told East Bay Express. Not 
every doctor will see you if you're from out of state, but some 
surely will, and write you the magic piece of paper that is a license 
to procure weed. And dispensaries have no legal basis to reject a 
patient, no matter where they live.

This would explain the scene at the High Times Cannabis Cup in Santa 
Rosa last June. Wandering inside the area reserved for Prop. 215 
patients, I met happy faces belonging to people from all over the 
West: Idaho, Utah, Nevada.

Their pockets were full of product, and everyone - the tourists, the 
collectives doing a month's work in a weekend, and the organizers 
charging the booth fee - went home happy.

On its website, High Times claims that no sales are allowed (a 
manager of the event did not return a call seeking comment last 
week). I can tell you I bought an eighth of Humboldt Royal Kush, and 
I enjoyed it very much.

I have a feeling I may not be invited back this year - but I hope I'm 
wrong. It's always fun to watch the tourists gawk, and remember what 
it was like when all this was new.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom