Gay Pride Tussles with Hemp Expo

Both are planning to hold big events in downtown Oakland on September 4.

The International Cannabis and Hemp Expo and Oakland Pride are both throwing their big annual parties in downtown on September 4, but don’t expect the two neighbors to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” In fact, a rift has emerged between Pride organizers and the Hemp Expo over the expo’s decision to hold its event on the same day and in the same area as Pride.

Pride chairwoman Amber Todd said Pride’s board of directors doesn’t want to compete with a huge pot party that could suck up sponsors, vendors, and attendees, and persuade some Pride event-goers to stay away from the area. As a result, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan had to personally step in and smooth some feathers.

According to Todd, Oakland Pride is a delicate species that flourished from 1997 to 2004 before it withered, and now needs nourishment. In 2010, she and others restarted the day-long street party celebrating LGBTQ culture and drew more than 30,000 people to downtown.

The newly resurrected Pride was gearing up for year two when organizers received a request in late March from the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo. Run by East Bay native Kim Cue and featured on network news nationwide, the 30,000-strong semi-annual expo and lecture series wanted to move out of the dungeonesque Cow Palace in Daly City. Cue and Expo co-organizer Salwa Ibrahim thought of bringing the huge event to downtown Oakland, and they had plans to close Telegraph Avenue and rent out the Fox Theater.

Todd said Pride’s board of directors discussed it and decided that “we didn’t want parents to feel discouraged” and not come to the Pride event because of the hemp expo. “We’re trying to create a sustainable event in Oakland.”

On April 22, Pride told the expo: “No, we can’t share the weekend.” Todd said that the expo organizers responded that it would be Oakland’s loss.

Todd thought that was the end of it. But, in late June, Todd said she found out through a hotelier that the Hemp Expo had gone forward and obtained city permits for the day anyway. “It just leaves a bad taste,” Todd said. “We were kind of sore.”

Todd said that event organizers usually try to coordinate with each other so as not to overlap. “We went around and talked to other festivals like Art & Soul, Sistahs Steppin’, and Oakland Black Pride, and we picked a weekend not being utilized,” Todd explained. “It’s just integrity, promotional integrity.”

Expo organizers didn’t want to comment on the issue.

As soon as the Pride board found out that the Hemp Expo was going ahead with its plans, they appealed to the city and got the expo moved further away from Pride, Todd said. Pride will run north up Franklin Street from 17th Street to 22nd Street. Across Broadway, the Hemp Expo will run from Ogawa Plaza west down 14th Street to Clay Street, and north up Clay to 17th.

Still, Todd said she worries that event-goers will confuse the two festivals. She said the city plans to review its event planning policies for the future. “We did have a very great discussion with Mayor Quan,” Todd said.

She said Quan told Pride organizers that Oakland is a big city, and there will be several instances of overlap. For example, gay event Sister Steppin’ in Pride happens on the same day as the Oakland Chinatown Streetfest. Quan also promised to hold a private fund-raiser for Pride on August 4, Todd said.

Come Labor Day, the two events together will draw perhaps 40,000 tourists and Bay Area residents to downtown, generating massive amounts of hotel use, dining sales, and shopping in the oft-maligned metropolis. “Speaking from a citizen of Oakland’s standpoint, it’s an amazing amount of revenue coming to the city,” Todd acknowledged. “The Hemp Expo is one of the biggest in the United States and this is arguably the second largest Pride in Northern California. I think it’s amazing.”

Seeds & Stems

“Full Court Press” — the massive marijuana raid effort recently undertaken by federal and local officials in Mendocino County — has tallied 101 arrests, 460,000 plants, and tons of garbage pulled from the Mendocino National Forest. Humboldt reporter Kym Kemp noted on her web site, Redheaded Blackbelt, that locals connected to the grows might be next.

Meanwhile, Californians are chipping in about $1 million per year for a separate campaign to pull cannabis out of our national forests. This annual Sisyphean effort goes by the name of the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP, and according to The Bay Citizen/New York Times‘ Zusha Elinson, it might be going away. Governor Jerry Brown’s state budget eliminates CAMP next year. William Ruzzamenti, the director of the Central Valley High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, estimates CAMP uproots perhaps 10 percent of the outdoor forest crop each year. Last year it reported cutting down 4.3 million plants.

NAACP delegates in Los Angeles on July 26 called for an end to the “War on Drugs,” noting that “African Americans are in fact thirteen times more likely to go to jail for the same drug-related offense than their white counterparts … creating a system of racial disparities that rivals Jim Crow policies of the 1960s.” The delegates’ resolution now must be ratified by the organization’s board of directors, which can then encourage the more than 1,200 active NAACP chapters across the country to organize campaigns to advocate for treatment instead of jail time. In 2009, the US Drug Czar claimed he was ending the “drug war” rhetoric, while leaving the war’s budget intact.

A new ballot initiative to legalize pot in California in 2012 got its title and summary. Now “Regulate Marijuana Like Wine 2012” must either use volunteers or pay to gather about 500,000 signatures in 150 days. Roughly 46 percent of Californians who voted in the 2010 election supported marijuana legalization initiative Proposition 19.

Update: A previous version of this story misstated the number of people who attended last year’s Pride Celebration. Attendance was estimated to be at least 30,000. That version of the article also contained an incorrect quotation estimating Pride’s size relative to other similar events.


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