Video: Marijuana Street Fair Lights Up the Weekend

By Will Godfrey 09/06/11

Downtown Oakland, California, hosted a two-day outdoor pot party that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

In some cities you couldn't even do this with tobacco: this weekend an event called the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo took place in by far its most prominent location yet—right under the nose of local government in Oakland, California. Occupying five blocks, the two-day party allowed anyone with medical approval to smoke cannabis in a designated area, just in front of City Hall—unmolested by "indifferent" cops. Some style the city the center of the Golden State's medical marijuana industry: "Oakland was the birthplace of Proposition 19," event representative Salwa Ibrahim told ABC [below], "and we have a school and a museum and a lot of these different businesses that really do cater to the cannabis industry." She emphasized, "We try to stress how to safely consume medicine." This medicine seemed pretty popular: many visitors without prior approval waited in long lines for interviews with on-site doctors, who provided temporary recommendations to smoke pot—for a $99 fee—for reported conditions ranging from migraines to bipolar disorder. But critics complained that the festival atmosphere and open smoking sent the wrong message to young people: "We don't want this in our neighborhood," said Charles O'Neil of the Coalition for a Drug Free California. As loud music played, products ranging from hemp massage oils to novelty bongs to "canna-bananas," dipped in THC-laced chocolate, were snapped up by enthusiasts. Beer-drinkers, who were herded into a separate tented area by wristband-checking security guards, may have felt like the more persecuted species for once. "You can smoke all you want and no one gets in fights," one smoker told, "It's all peace and love. It's amazing."

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.