New Smokeout Show Includes Medical Pot Hub

15 Oct

B-Real of Cypress Hill is promoting and performing at this year's Smokeout Festival in San Bernardino, Calif.

Long before the push in California to legalize marijuana, rap group Cypress Hill had encouraged their fans to light up at shows, but now they’re about to do so legally for the first time.

At the upcoming Cypress Hill Smokeout Festival on Oct. 16 at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino, Calif., Cypress and longtime partners and independent promoter Guerilla Union have teamed with Safe Access to offer medical marijuana patients a “consumption area” on the grounds. The move was undertaken after consulting with local authorities and ensuring that no laws would be broken in establishing the first-ever legal marijuana consumption zone at a major concert event in Southern California.

“After bringing Smokeout back last year after a four-year hiatus, in addition to the show we had a full-on medical marijuana trade show,” said promoter Chang Weisberg of Guerilla Union.

Soon after last year’s Smokeout ended, Weisberg began talks with the NOS Events Center staff and board of directors, the local San Bernardino Police Department and City Attorney about his plans. Though the city has a moratorium on such consumption zones, because the NOS is a state facility and state law allows medical marijuana patients to consume pot in a designated public location, Weisberg was able to get clearance.

Most importantly for him and the band, the compassionate use area will allow medical marijuana users to light up at the Smokeout without fear of police or security looking over their shoulders. “We have a lot of fans who are in favor of medical marijuana and, of those, maybe 10-percent in the crowd are legitimate patients.”

California’s 1996 Compassionate Use Act allows the state’s patients to possess and cultivate cannabis for personal medical use with a valid doctor’s recommendation.

Anyone wishing to enter must have their compassionate use card and bring in their own pot (one-eighth of an ounce max) to a special patient-only entrance on the grounds, where professionals will verify their status before they are allowed entry. Once in the segregated area, they will be allowed to consume their marijuana and attend the expo (which will be in the general population area) and will be given a special wristband that will give them access to the rest of the grounds. “It will be kind of like a beer garden,” said Weisberg, who has hooked up with the largest medical marijuana advocacy organization, Americans for Safe Access, on the project. Not only will volunteers be checking IDs, but the area will also have security from both Contemporary Services Corporation (CSC) and Apex.

Weisberg said there will be no sale of marijuana allowed on site, but he would like to facilitate sales for future concerts. At the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Northern California, the smaller-scale Harmony Festival has allowed consumption on site for several years and Weisberg noted that the Cow Palace in San Francisco has hosted the International Hemp and Cannabis Expo twice in 2010, where consumption was also approved.

The NOS venue — which hosts everything from a fair to private parties to a weekly outdoor flea market, gospel brunches and stock car races — was not involved in the negotiations to allow the legal consumption area.

Guerilla Union Senior Director Carla Garcia, who will be overseeing the compassionate use area, said it will be split into two sections, one on the north end of the venue and another on the south which, between them, will take up an acre or so. She described the vibe as “Zen-garden like” with bubbling water fountains and plenty of shade, but because of state regulations that say you cannot smoke within 20 feet of a tented area, there will be generous corridors around the limited vending in the two zones.

“One of our challenges is gauging how many of our attendants will be in that area,” she said. The best guess is that about 10 percent of the crowd – which last year numbered more than 30,000 over two days – will be eligible for entry. “We have to be extra cautious and we’re telling patients that they also have a responsibility to make sure they’re complying with the rules so that we can gain the trust of the venue and the public.”

Her estimate is that 3,000-3,500 patients will be in attendance and around 2,500 will qualify, which should make the two areas very comfortable and not overcrowded. Asked if there was an extra cost to setting the areas up, Garcia said between the chain link fencing, the extra security, signage and the party tables with umbrellas and other accents, the costs are under $10,000, with no upcharge to patients for entry.

In addition to Cypress Hill, the line-up for this year’s show includes Incubus, Manu Chao, Slightly Stoopid, Deadmau5, MGMT, Nas & Damian Marley, Atmosphere, Erykah Badu, Paul Oakenfold, Living Colour and Basement Jaxx.

Weisberg said that GU’s insurance company, Statewide, has underwritten the event 100 percent and he feels “comfortably protected” against any liability. “Food and beverage and parking have a big impact [on concert revenue], but medical marijuana could have an even larger impact on the live music business.” — Gil Kaufman

Interviewed for this article: Chang Weisberg, 626-290-5052; Lucy Gallegos, (909) 888-6788; Carla Garcia, 909 706 3672


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