By its very name, the Cypress Hill Smokeout, a single-day rap and rock music festival, is engineered with a red eye toward the narcotically inclined. But this Saturday, for the first time in the event's dozen-year history, medical marijuana patients will be permitted to roll it up, light it up and inhale. And for those who don't have a card, a doctor will be on duty to issue one.
The arrangement is the result of a pact between the board of San Bernardino's National Orange Show Events Center and Smokeout promoters Guerilla Union and Cypress Hill. It will allow for a dedicated consumption area to be set aside for patients possessing a valid doctor's recommendation.
In creating a safe zone for smokers, the concert, which will feature performances by Incubus, Deadmau5, Erykah Badu and two dozen others, places itself in the middle of a political issue that reaches its apex on Nov. 2, when Californians will weigh in on Proposition 19, called the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. The measure would allow anyone 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.
"This is about more than just offering a place where people with medical marijuana cards can smoke marijuana freely," said Chang Weisberg, the founder of Guerilla Union. "We have a marijuana expo where we promote activism, compassion and education. We believe that medical marijuana is the gateway to responsible tax-regulated consumption. Big alcohol, big medicine and big tobacco fan a lot of negative stereotypes regarding cannabis, and we're trying to dispel them." He adds that the agreement is the result of Guerilla Union's successfully executing the Smokeout and two other music festivals, Paid Dues and Rock the Bells.
The decision comes at a time of shifting social mores toward marijuana, with 14 states currently allowing medical consumption for patients who have obtained a doctor's recommendation. Earlier this month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that reduced marijuana possession of under an ounce from a misdemeanor to an infraction. .
"The idea was [Weisberg's], but we needed to make sure that there was a list of do's and don'ts that would be followed," said Dan Jimenez, the general manager of the National Orange Show Events Center. "No alcohol will be served in the consumption area, and we'll have extra security guards on hand to ensure proper guidelines are being followed."
The rules and regulations were drawn up with help from Americans for Safe Access (ASA), an Oakland-based organization that bills itself as "the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research." The ASA will be in charge of verifying potential entrants who want to access the smoking area.
"Contrasted with Northern California, Southern California has been slower to embrace medical marijuana and its consumption in these type of environments. We're trying to reassure people that this can be controlled and regulated — it won't be a smokeout free-for-all," said Don Duncan, the California director of the ASA. "We'll have volunteers and staff members screening patients. We'll have safety monitors. There's a possibility that someone may try to game the system, but we have an experienced crew who are capable of spotting people with fake recommendations."
Though the San Bernardino Police Department has not condoned the agreement between Guerilla Union and the Orange Show, it has agreed to honor patients' rights to use medicinal marijuana as granted under 1996's Proposition 215. There will continue to be undercover narcotics officers at the Smokeout, but Lt. Gwendolyn Waters, the Southeast District commander of the city of San Bernardino, says that they will restrict their focus to other illicit substances. No marijuana will be permitted to be sold on the premises.
"The Orange Show is private property, so it's not within our rights to prevent a medical marijuana consumption area. We don't condone or consent to it, and we don't think it's a good idea, but it's legal by law and we'll do everything in our power to make sure it goes off safely," Waters said. "Its success will depend on the users and attendees of the concert. If they want to ensure that this will happen in the future, they're going to have to be responsible and behave respectfully."
A certified card-carrying medical marijuana patient himself, B-Real of Cypress Hill viewed the decision as a partial culmination of a lifetime of efforts devoted to the medical marijuana and legalization cause.
"This is something that we've been working toward since we started the Smokeout. It's a dream come true to get headliners like Incubus, Manu Chao, Nas and Damian Marley at a venue where medical patients can smoke as they see fit," the South Gate-raised rapper said. "We're seeing the times change and people's views evolve. No longer are they as willing to accept what the government has to say about marijuana. People are more informed these days, they're more tolerant and more accepting than they've ever been."