Marijuana Political Economy

Weeding the People is Tricky Business

Oregon’s first legal cannabis trade show exemplified the frustrations of regulated freedom.

Weed The People was an overwhelming success. In fact and in literal terms, overwhelming indeed and financially successful too. Perhaps the term “beautiful disaster” popularly coined by the mainstream stoner rock band, 311, would be more appropriate. Thankfully, Aquarium Drunkard’s music picks didn’t stray too far from the best of roots stoner-hippy-music and good new psychedelic and electronic stuff; no 311, no Sublime, no Phish, no Bob Marley, but probably lots of their fans mingled about in one of the most socially diverse scenes I have encountered in Portland, ever.

What makes it a beautiful disaster is that such a gathering was able to connect marijuana industry people with one another and it brought stoners together and united, but it was terribly designed toward the attendees’ experience, as complaints of extraordinary wait times and blistering heat characterized the hashtag #WeedThePeople. It wasn’t really a community dynamic either, it was unapologetically commercial. It begs some questions about the law and how something so simple as a weed tasting event turned into a near-humanitarian disaster.

I would symbolize the absurd line at Weed the People as the passing of marijuana prohibition itself — we have all been waiting far too long for a small payoff.

Marijuana, in Oregon, is now decriminalized. Medical shops haven’t really changed, and it is still necessary to have a medical card to exchange money for marijuana. The black market continues to operate — the costs in electricity and in equipment to grow juicy, mind-altering, pain-relieving, miracle-healing flowers is staggering — but the presence of non-Northwest marijuana in Oregon is all but gone. The 2014 ballot vote laid the foundation for public marijuana sales with legal possession at 21 years and older, but now the legislators and lobbyists work on their entryway to the public marketplace.

That is basically why Weed the People could not operate like a beer festival or wine tasting, where you know that your entry fee is buying so many samples. It had to be formulated with a convoluted “free giveaway” and separate vape demos happening in a different area. The illusion that a thousand people didn’t just buy weed and vape is no more than a smokescreen.

Editor at Vice Magazine
Editor at Vice Magazine

That illusion cost at least 500 people at any given time two hours waiting outside under the blistering sun in 90+ degree weather. That’s how long I was outside. Once inside, the line continued to route, according to one private security officer, nearly one thousand people sprawled in twists and turns through this warehouse. There were 35 vendors total. Some gave away pot or pot-infused things. During this time, I saw a fire truck and ambulance roll in. I also spotted this tweet.

We wiggled along the industrial warehouse into no man’s land because the line was so huge, and during these dull moments, I was one of several linemen who took their break to the vape stations, spot preserved honorably by another linemate. The feet felt so much better after a couple of vape sessions outside.

Finally, we arrived at what we’d all been waiting for — what our golden tickets promised — in The Grower’s Garden. Here there were seven tables that strictly gave away pot, hosting maybe 25 people at a time, each taking five minutes to get through. It was like an hourglass, and we the people were grains of sand carefully counted to last seven hours. Scarcity of course is what drives the marketplace. I would symbolize the absurd line at Weed the People as the passing of marijuana prohibition itself — we have all been waiting far too long for a small payoff.

We had seven tokens on our wrist bands and for each token, we’d receive one gram of pot. I think because folks knew I was press, they gave me extra, so I got quite the haul, at least ten grams. After receiving my buds and trying out all the vape machines outside, I looked at the clock and realized that I had spent six hours of my day, from 2:30 in the afternoon to 8:30 at night, standing mostly still in this warehouse.

Something I thought would be a two-hour stoney afternoon turned into an elongated acid trip. Coming down was great though. I went home and continued the sampling and watched Star Trek Next Generation before passing out. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, journalism is the best job in the world.

Much grumbling on social media and elsewhere about the heat, the lines, the size of the samples, and the overall experience of the event was exaggerated. Everyone that cashed in their tokens got at least seven grams. I weighed several of my samples, finding two growers only gave 0.5-0.7 grams (the little plastic cups), and some gave 1.0-1.3 grams (baggies). It all comes out in the wash. If you were fortunate enough to be one of the first thousand (as I was) then you got a plastic red shwag bag, and mine, full of stuff, didn’t break. I didn’t pass out, because I take care of my body, and I kept hydrated — organizers were great about distributing water. Weed the People was a messy event, but you had to know you were participating in history.

The Portland Mercury and Oregon’s Cannabis Concierge are trail blazing what is probably going to be a rapidly growing annual trade show. The whole thing went off without any irrepairable problems; very little policing and security was necessary, so its issues are surmountable if they want to pull this off again, next summer. When I stop to consider how much money was made, I wonder how many concerns they could have prepared for, and yet, I also know how hard it is for an event organizer to work out the kinks in advance for something that has never specifically been tried.

Here’s how I figure the money anyway. A sold out crowd reported at 1,300 or more paid $40 a head, plus vendor fees (I would guess at least $150 per 32 vendors) so the event grossed at least $56,950 during that seven hour stretch. Probably more. Net profit would be at least half that. I also overheard deals and connections being made over the tables between vendors and participants. No doubt everybody’s sales were stimulated.

The weed industry is going to boom Oregon’s economy, no question, and the ways that we get high, and the reasons, will finally be realized to their fullest. If it makes the world a more peaceful place, then all is well in the universe.

The following images offer greater detail about my experience. All photos taken by myself. Please enjoy.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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