SANTA CRUZ — After the last several WAMMFests encountered challenges, organizers of Santa Cruz’s annual medical marijuana awareness event appear to be in for an easier time getting the city’s nod of approval.
Today, the City Council will consider lifting a smoking ban at San Lorenzo Park for five hours Sept. 25 to allow authorized pot users to medicate inside open-air tents designed to create privacy. The item is on the council’s consent agenda, indicating that it may not be as controversial as in years past.
“For the city, it’s a matter of course,” Mayor Mike Rotkin said.
The event will run from noon to 5 p.m. Admission to the event is free and open to the public, but if the council OKs temporarily lifting the ban, organizers will allow smoking marijuana only in a separate tent. Medical marijuana identification will be required.
Last year, an oversight kept the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana’s annual request for a smoking exemption from landing on a council agenda in time for the event. Instead, the group put its tent on county property near the usual site. Police issued two citations for smoking on park property but otherwise applauded WAMM for holding the event in a responsible manner.
In 2008, a philosophical divide on the council nearly kept marijuana users from legally participating. Three council members supported lifting the smoking ban but three others were opposed. The tie couldn’t be broken that night because a seventh council member was absent, but a compromise proposed two weeks later called for lifting the ban only for the tented area.
This year’s measure calls for lifting the smoking ban in the entire park, but urges the organizers “to designate a specific enclosed location for medical marijuana treatment.” Councilman Don Lane said he supports the measure because WAMM has acted responsibly in hosting previous events. “They have a good reason for wanting to allow it in just this one instance.”
Valerie Corral, co-founder of WAMM, said volunteers will monitor the park, asking people who are smoking marijuana to show their medical authorization cards so the event doesn’t “turn into hemp-fest.” “It’s just really is to keep the focus on the justices that have been met in our own community and on the state level,” Corral said. “We’re bringing awareness to an ongoing issue, marijuana as medicine, and the kind of marginalization that still occurs for people who are seriously ill.” The past year has seen a lot of movement on the medicinal marijuana front.
In January, WAMM suspended a lawsuit against the federal government on the condition that the Drug Enforcement Agency respect state medical marijuana rules. The DEA raided WAMM’s garden and arrested Corral and her husband, Mike, during a 2002 raid, but the Obama administration announced in October that it would stop prosecuting patients or caregivers in states with medical marijuana provisions. California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996.
Also this year, over the pleas of patients to expand options, the City Council limited medical pot dispensaries in Santa Cruz to the two operating in the Harvey West area. However, the council now allows the pot shops to open seven days a week and grow more of their own supply in-house.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Annual WAMMFest event by the Wo/Men”s Alliance for Medical Marijuana to raise awareness of medical marijuana use. The public event is free. If the city agrees Tuesday to temporarily lift a smoking ban in the park for the event, using marijuana will be allowed only in a separate tent and with a medical marijuana identification card.