One forward, one back

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

I heard you were just at the Portland Hempstalk festival. How was it?

—Roald Tripp

It was great. The Portland Hempstalk was just the dose of old-school activism that I needed to recharge my batteries. First of all, it was a wonderful thing to walk around with a bag of weed in my pocket and not worry about the police. It sounds like a small deal, especially since California has practically legalized cannabis possession, but there is still the chance that an officer in a bad mood can give you a summons, especially if you are carrying more than a quarter-ounce in your pocket. While a quarter-ounce (14 grams) may sound like a lot, remember that I was headed to a pot festival. Bringing a quarter-ounce to a pot fest is like bringing a case of beer to a house party. You may not need or use all of it, but it’s nice to have around.

By the way, California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act will allow adults to carry up to an ounce if it passes. Just so you know.

Small digression: The city of Nashville just decriminalized possession of cannabis. Instead of a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail, people caught with weed will have to pay a $50 fine. There’s one small problem: This new law makes the $50 fine an optional thing, leaving it up to the cops whether to issue an infraction or to haul someone off to the hoosegow. As someone that understands the challenges of living with systemic racism, I worry that plenty of white folks will receive the benefit of just being charged with an infraction and plenty of nonwhites will not. Hopefully, the city will do studies and take steps to ensure that this law is not used as a tool to continue to punish minorities while letting the more privileged escape serious repercussions. But, baby steps in the right direction, I suppose.

Back to Portland: The Hempstalk was held in Tom McCall Waterfront Park near downtown, and Oregon’s clean air laws prohibit smoking of anything in public parks, so no one was allowed to openly smoke cannabis. Park rangers were on-hand to issue $273 fines to people smoking weed. In a park. On a beautiful day. What a bunch of buzzkillers.

Any other day of the year, hundreds of people openly smoke weed in Waterfront Park without anyone raising an eyebrow. The fact that Portland will allow all sorts of brewfests and beerfests to get special waivers that allow booze (and booze sales) just so people can get drunk in a park but deny stoners the chance to do what is essentially considered a safer version of the same thing had me riled up and reminded me that just because cannabis has been legalized doesn’t mean that activism is done. We are winning, but the battle is not over. The more rights you assert, the more rights you have. Let’s continue to fight for our right to smoke weed in a park on a sunny day.