Is the smell of revolution in the air at Union Square?
Or just a whiff of reefer madness?
The 38th annual national convention for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws wraps up today at the downtown Grand Hyatt, and groups of medical marijuana users have been casually passing joints on the outdoor patio. It's probably what some visitors from Des Moines were afraid would happen when they landed in the marquee city of the Left Coast.
But NORML delegates, basking in the glow of their Barack Obama themed-convention motto - "Yes We Can-nabis" - are convinced this isn't a fringe issue any more.
"There is no doubt that today, Sept. 25, 2009, is the moment of genuine zeitgeist to decriminalizing marijuana in America," said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML. "This conference represents that we are at that tipping point."
Maybe in the Bay Area, but I doubt voters in conservative Orange County will be thrilled to vote for the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010.
The cannabis act was endorsed Friday by Oakland mayoral candidate and former Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata. Perata was supposed to appear at the conference, but was ill and was not available for comment.
The act would make it lawful for anyone over the age of 21 to "possess, share, or transport not more than one ounce of cannabis." The act is currently gaining signatures in a petition drive to make the ballot, but it seems more like a first step than a popular vote winner.
The same can be said about State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's bill, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, which he says could raise as much as $1 billion. Ammiano insists that even right-wingers will see the benefits of legal pot.
"It's not the wedge issue it once was," he said after speaking to hundreds of delegates at the NORML morning session. "When they see that the sales of pot to adults is financing a health clinic, they will see why it will work."
But until NORML can get a ballot measure passed or can even hold their national convention in someplace other than a liberal stronghold (their last two conventions have been in the Bay Area), it's a stretch to say they've reached a tipping point. NORML might need to see what's "normal" outside of San Francisco.
Because in Oakland, San Francisco and other Bay Area communities, medical marijuana facilities are a fact of life. Oakland has begun taxing marijuana sales at medical dispensaries, and there are estimates that between $400,000 and $500,000 will be raised in the first year.
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, says open-ended Bay Area pot programs are making the case for decriminalizing.
"People realize the sky has not fallen," Nadelmann said.
It all sounds logical until you leave the haze of the Hyatt (the hotel had scented candles burning all around the lobby, presumably to take the edge off the aroma of burning bud.)
I asked Dale Clare, executive director of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland school for those who want to work in the medical marijuana industry, if she really thought they could make a case for decriminalizing pot in Fresno.
"Fresno?" she said. "Not so much. We are probably not going to spend our resources there. But we are going to have conversations with concerned groups, and by that I mean Christian groups and conservative groups. I think they will agree that our current drug policy has failed."
That was the theme through the conference. A rising tide of acceptance of marijuana is sweeping the country. It is just that California is leading the way. Consider, they say, Perata's endorsement of the pot bill on the ballot.
"Isn't that something?" said Ammiano. "He probably thinks it's good for his mayor's race."
A few years ago that would have been political suicide. But in the lobby of the Hyatt this week, it seems mainstream. Dude.