How to overcome the fear of smoking marijuana in public

Also: Will California ever figure out its medical-cannabis problem?

Ngaio Bealum is a Sacramento comedian, activist and marijuana expert. Email him questions at

I saw your article with the hemp fest calendar dates. I’ve never been to one, partly because of my old-fashioned paranoia about smoking weed in public. Are police hassles or arrests made during these events? Are we required to always carry the doctor’s recommendation?


Here’s the thing about hemp festivals: They rely on safety in numbers. Back in the early days of the Seattle Hempfest (1991 or so), the cops would show up early and hassle a few folks, then fade into the background as the park grew more crowded. If 20,000 people are in a park smoking weed, it’s hard for 12 or so police officers to arrest anyone. Now that more than 100,000 people show up for the Seattle Hempfest, the cops won’t bother you, unless you do something stupid, like blow smoke in a cop’s face (I’ve seen it happen), or try to rob a vendor.

In California, most of the festivals and expos have a medical-cannabis section. You have to present your letter of recommendation and ID to enter. At the San Francisco High Times Medical Cannabis Cup this past June, I think I saw two police officers. They walked through the patients’ section, smiling and taking pictures with various festival attendees.

The new challenge will be what to do about dabbing. The fire marshal really doesn’t want thousands of stoned people in a small, crowded area, lighting hundreds of butane torches. All it takes is for one knucklehead to knock a torch into a tent or onto the grass, and all of a sudden, a nice little hemp fest is now a fire drill. Leave your torches at home, and bring your vapor pen. The Jefferson State Hemp Expo in Oregon is on private property, so there shouldn’t be any problems there, either.

Hemp festivals are notoriously mellow yet incredibly fun affairs. I have been attending various hemp fests for more than 20 years, and I have only seen two fights. Not even two. One was an altercation between a drunk and a tweaker, which was quickly broken up by all the friendly stoners, and the other was between a drunk and a drunk, which was also broken up by all the peaceful potheads in the vicinity. So, my advice is: Don’t get violently drunk, and don’t blow smoke into a cop’s face. Have fun.

Is California ever going to have comprehensive, statewide medical-cannabis regulation?


Who knows? I suppose they are working on it. Senate Bill 439, which would turn the 2008 attorney general’s medical-marijuana guidelines ( into law, has a good chance at passing.

S.B. 439 would make medical-cannabis dispensaries legal, as long as they are run as a nonprofit. That’s really the best part. Other than that, the bill is nothing special or groundbreaking, which is probably why it stands a good chance of passing. You’d think that a state with a supermajority of Democrats—the Democrats that just sent a letter to the Obama administration asking it to respect Colorado and Washington’s marijuana laws—would be able to pass a more significant law than the one currently on the table.