Oakland Medical Cannabis Expo Not That Great

Out of unabashed curiosity, Charles and I attended the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo in downtown Oakland last weekend. I have long been curious about the industry and culture of marijuana production in California. An entire, well-developed but nearly invisible sub-culture had developed here and is now expanding at astonishing speed. I figured the Expo would be a good place to learn more. They advertised it as promoting awareness, education, and advancements in the medical cannabis industry. I don’t know what I was expecting from the event (isn’t it funny how we can have strong expectations without even knowing we have them?), but what I got was pretty ho-hum in comparison.

All I knew ahead of time was that it cost $20 to get in and that there would be a “patient consumption area” area. What I didn’t know was that Charles would be frisked (not me—I dare them) and that most of the interesting stuff was isolated behind that members-only smoking area

The event was set up like a street fair with tents down both sides of the street mostly selling tee-shirts and blown glass pipes, or handing out literature for tech products and medical cannabis support and advocacy groups. Reggae music was piped in around the food truck area and grow-product display booths. We wandered into a public discussion happening in a remote, dry corner that was entirely uninviting.

I left Charles to poke around there while I went into the Card-Holding Members-Only section. (Without a card, evidently, you cannot be trusted to even LOOK at marijuana. God only knows what might happen.) I wandered past tents and booths where medical marijuana dispensaries displayed their products. Looked in on the Joint Rolling Competition (a timed event with the top score at 13 joints at that point—I don’t think style mattered, though). But frankly, I really didn’t want to spend my afternoon alone, so I rejoined Charles after about 15 minutes. It was very disappointing. And honestly, if the producers were going to restrict 2/3 of the event, they shouldn’t charge everyone $20.

We left the fair to find Oaksterdam University which was having an open house. OU provides classes on many aspects of the medical marijuana industry from horticulture to legal matters. I expected that students and teachers would be available to talk to and/or that someone could show us around the school. Neither happened. We were sent upstairs to a large, dark room full of chairs with a snack table with an unappetizing assortment of sandwich rolls and carrots and dip along one wall. There was a display of all the foods you can make with canna butter: I almost ate off it before I realized the food was labeled. We saw a grow room with plants at various stages…and that was it. Not one person approached us to ask if we had questions. Nothing. A total waste of my time. They should apologize.

Charles and I have tried to figure out what went wrong at the fair. He speculates that the medical marijuana industry has an identity problem: are they a medical community or a stoner one? The fact that there is a magazine targeting the “medical marijuana lifestyle” should tell you how confused the industry is regarding its own identity. (Or, at least to my mind, Medicine and Lifestyle seema bit oxymoronic.) Neither a technologies conference, nor a fun day at the fair, the Expo reflected that schizophrenia by its mixture of reggae and tie-dye with cannabis production technologies. A tip-of-the-hat to the stoner lifestyle but a generally clinical atmosphere.

I suppose the conflict is largely because Californian’s can’t decide if we want to limit the use of marijuana to medicine or if we want it to be legal for everyone. That’s a more complicated discussion that you might imagine. General legalization would impact the underground industry, it’s tied into the federal “war on drugs,” regulations would have to be written. Anyway, while the Expo did provide me with a range of information (almost entirely through free full-color glossy advertising cards), it wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped.

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