Steeling ourselves for the fight ahead
A different vibe was in the air at this year’s THC Exposé at the Los Angeles Convention Center, which was odd because so much was the same as last year’s event.
It was the same crowd—thousands upon thousands of cannabis lovers, medical-marijuana patients, caregivers and advocates—as at the 2009 show. Many of the same vendors were there to hawk their products. Merchants showed off their pipes, vaporizers, trimmers and stash boxes. Clothiers hawked their hemp T-shirts and hats and Bob Marley souvenir headbands. Activists from NORML and other assorted acronyms urged the faithful to register for this or that newsletter or sign this or that petition. The media industry dispensed their content. We were there, handing out copies of CULTURE to everyone who wandered within reach, proud to be a part, happy to be among our own.
But, still, there was a different mood over last year’s grand time—you could see it in the faces of the crowd, and more than a few people openly commented about it. It was so palpable you could almost taste it. For the longest time, I couldn’t put my finger on the difference—I walked among the booths and chatted with the other vendors, and everywhere I felt it but couldn’t quite figure out what had changed. Then it occurred to me.
What was missing was the giddiness—the childlike optimism—that was felt at the last big show. When the tribes turned out for the first gathering, L.A.’s medical-marijuana scene was at its zenith. Hundreds of collectives dotted the landscape, and hundreds more thriving ancillary outfits—420 clinics, hydroponics stores, smoke shops, you name it—had sprung up to service them. But it was more than that: The giddiness we all felt seemed like an unstoppable force that was sweeping the country.
We had a new president who appeared very much in our corner. Conservative states like Colorado were bowing to the will of the voters for a better, more sensible public-policy approach to cannabis. It was if all the pent-up frustration we all felt over three-quarters of a century of prohibition had finally hit critical mass, exploded and transformed into something else—a euphoric sense of positive change. The common refrain at last year’s L.A. convention was, “Our time has come.”
But so much has happened since those heady days in April 2009. President Obama’s new drug czar proved to be anything but in our corner. The federal raids go on, as do the state and local ones. Los Angeles’ draconian medical-marijuana ordinance was approved, threatening to destroy one of the few thriving industries remaining in the city. One begins to wonder whether all the promise and expectation we felt last year was just an illusion, or merely a timeout for the drug warriors to regroup and reload.
Such was the new landscape when the 2010 Exposé gathered, and the vibe in the air reflected it. The mood wasn’t so much somber as it was less childlike: It was harder, more cautious and certainly more business-oriented. Much talk was made about the upcoming ballot initiative that would legalize and regulate cannabis for recreational use, but those conversations were largely private—publically, there were no speeches or lectures about how our time had finally come. And rightly so—such chatter would have seemed foolish in the current climate.
As this past year has shown, our time—a time when we can medicate freely and sensibly, free of fear of harassment or imprisonment—has yet to come. It’s close—so close you can almost taste it—but just not here yet. If the 2009 THC Expo was a time for celebration, the 2010 THC Exposé was a time for taking inventory.