Only legal smoke sniffed out at West Hollywood pot festival

October 02, 2006

Noaki Schwartz, Associated Press

 WEST HOLLYWOOD - The only smoke at the first annual medical marijuana festival on Saturday appeared to come from cigarettes.

Organizers of the event said they strongly discouraged people from lighting up at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium. Attendees still managed to show support by wearing T-shirts with marijuana leaves on them or by buying one of the many glass pipes for sale.

The gathering celebrated the 10th anniversary of the passage of Proposition 215, which declared the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes legal in California.

Assemblyman Paul Koretz, adorned in a synthetic lei of the spidery leaf, was on hand to recognize key figures in the medical marijuana movement. The West Hollywood Democrat championed legal access to the drug, which is used by people with AIDS and cancer to ease pain and nausea.

"It is fitting that we celebrate this anniversary in the pioneering city of West Hollywood, a community that has always believed in medical cannabis and cared for medical cannabis patients," he said.

West Hollywood was the first city south of San Francisco to have a medical cannabis dispensary, after voters approved legalizing the drug for therapeutic use in 1996.

In 2003, state legislation was approved allowing counties to issue identification cards to medical users to protect them from prosecution by local law enforcement.

Federal law, however, continues to prohibit marijuana use. In June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal authorities could still seize and destroy marijuana stashes and arrest growers and consumers in the 11 states that allow medical marijuana use.

One of the few speakers at the festival who seemed to rouse the otherwise mellow crowd of both young and old was Dennis Peron, who wrote Proposition 215. He proposed another assignment for federal drug agents.

"Let's send the DEA agents out to Afghanistan where they can do good!" he shouted.

The crowd cheered even louder when he added that even more marijuana should be grown.

Bill Britt listened, sitting in a scooter chair decorated with plastic marijuana leaves.

Britt, who contracted polio as an infant, has epilepsy, a fused ankle and has difficulty walking. Because of the threat of seizures, there are few medications he can take, and he said medical marijuana has helped ease the constant pain he feels.

"They say marijuana is a crutch and I would agree," he said, looking at his own wrist crutches. "Crutches let me get through life and ease my pain. They assist me."

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