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California marijuana street fair fuels debate over legalization

The International Cannabis & Hemp Expo outside Oakland City Hall this weekend includes a spot where medical marijuana cardholders can light up – another round in the fight over legalization.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / September 3, 2011

In this Oct. 2010 photo, Susan Recht smokes a marijuana cigarette at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic. Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana will try to win over California voters again next year, after the secretary of state's office in July cleared them to begin circulating ballot petitions.

Eric Risberg/AP/File

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Los Angeles

Standing outside a medical marijuana dispensary in southern California, Lucy Baldwin muses on one of the great social and political debates here.

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“I thought the threat of marijuana acceptance in California was over with the defeat of Prop. 19, but now it seems to be back,” says the single mother of two teens. “I think it’s a bad idea for grownups to be modeling behavior that is ultimately very detrimental to youth. It leads them in the wrong direction.”

Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, holds an opposite opinion.

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“When we stop blowing it out of proportion as a society and learn to deal with this commonly used substance in a calm and reasonable manner, we see that the sky does not fall and life goes on as before,” he says.

The two comments frame a debate that is being fueled by the International Cannabis & Hemp Expo outside Oakland City Hall this weekend – a five-block street fair including music, booths, hundreds of vendors, and a designated area where medical marijuana cardholders can light up weed.

Once projected to win by a large margin, California’s Proposition 19 – which would have allowed local governments to regulate and tax the legal sale of marijuana – was narrowly defeated last November (54-47 percent).

But proponents say public attitudes have been changing for several years and that the expo is the latest evidence.

Although some local residents are against the idea, marijuana advocates say the event is no big deal because it was held at Oakland’s Cow Palace two years in a row and is moving to the street simply because of a state moratorium on drug use inside state facilities.

“Events such as this are not new in California and elsewhere. This seems like it is simply the first one to be held in the street,” says Fox. “Providing medical marijuana patients with a place to use their medicine privately and away from minors, while still enjoying a public festival or other event, is a considerate and rational course of action.”

Pro-marijuana forces are seizing the opportunity to repeat their selling points from the initiative battle – that far from leading kids astray, legalization would improve the quality and safety of the product while providing income for law enforcement.

“The fact that Oakland officials seem eager to hold this event on city property shows just how much legalizing and regulating the cannabis industry has benefited the city,” says Tom Angell, media relations director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a Massachusetts organization that describes itself as “made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies.”

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