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.
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“Bringing the marijuana trade above-ground not only allows the city to take in much-needed tax revenue it otherwise wouldn't have,” Angell says, “but it reduces crime and violence by putting the street gangs who would otherwise sell marijuana to people who want it out of business.”Skip to next paragraph
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To Lucy Baldwin, those arguments are simply the nose of a nice-looking camel nudging its way into her tent.
First came California’s Prop. 215, the 1996 ballot initiative that legalized personal use of medical marijuana for those who had doctor’s prescriptions. That was followed by the proliferation of dispensaries which, she says, legitimized people who were only thinly-veiled drug dealers and who sold drugs too close to schools, playgrounds, and churches.
Oakland’s Oaksterdam University opened in November 2007 to offer training for the cannabis industry with a stated mission to “legitimize the business and work to change the law to make cannabis legal.” It has graduated over 8,000 students. Campuses have since opened in Los Angeles, Sebastopol, and Michigan.
Since expo organizers are selling the $20 tickets to adults only and limiting entry points, they expect only about 20,000 people to attend. But Baldwin says the speakers, vendors, booths – and pot smell – will be in everybody’s face.
“Kids will look over and see what’s going on and will wonder why it’s so exclusive and that will make it cool to them,” she says. “We don’t need this.”
But marijuana advocates point to several polls over the past 10 years that show public resistance to marijuana is dying out in several parts of the country. That has come with the high financial cost of fighting the drug war and the high social cost of locking up thousands of people when regulating it could provide revenues to economically-strapped law enforcement agencies.
“Events such as this reflect the reality that despite 70-plus years of federal prohibition, cannabis culture is not only surviving but thriving,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), also on the faculty of Oaksterdam, in an email.
“Oakland voters and city officials have consistently voiced their support for marijuana legalization and regulation, as is evident by their willingness to embrace this event,” he says. “It makes no sense for the federal government to continue to cling to a policy that improperly classifies the tens of thousands of people attending this weekend’s event as criminals who deserve to be arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for their use of a substance that is objectively safer than either alcohol or tobacco.”
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