SLIDESHOW: No Hemp At HempCon
There is no hemp at HempCon.
There are all manners of pipes, bongs, hookahs, vaporizers, joint rollers, lighters, jars, bags, hydroponic units, organic fertilizer, sprays to make you look and smell less stoned, sprays to get rid of “cotton mouth" and something called “Krunk Wic,” but no actual hemp. Every so often I smell a waft of pot smoke still clinging to someone’s hair, but it’s fleeting, like a cool breeze on a hot dry day.
The two police officers standing just outside Los Angeles Convention Center look bored. This is their second day in a row, and they haven’t seen a single person smoking weed. The most they've done is tell a few people not to smoke cigarettes on the balcony.
HempCon is a “medical marijuana mega show,” with speakers and booths and such. For September 10-12 it's sharing the convention center with the bigger and more expensive Adultcon, which seems to be some sort of strange coincidence.
(I don’t go into Adultcon on account of its $40 entrance fee, but the contrast is obvious even from the outside. The line to buy tickets to Adultcon, easily 20 deep, is dominated by overweight adult males, a number of whom are pulling wheeled luggage. A couple of nervous girlfriends cling to their boyfriends. The HempCon crowd is younger and more racially and sexually mixed. The t-shirts are brighter and there are more flip flops. Where the soundtrack to HempCon is hard and classic rock, Adultcon thumps to a dystopian techno beat.)
The organizers of HempCon– or rather, the people with walkie talkies that would talk to me, don’t see the synergy.
“We didn’t want to be next to them. It doesn’t really help,” says a man named John Lee.
Most people here look at me like I’m a NARC. When I tell them I’m a reporter, their opinion of me only worsens. Marijuana still exists in that gray area of social acceptance, where even if people are acting within the letter of the law, they still feel like they’re doing something wrong, and they’re either embarrassed or afraid they’ll get caught.
I ask a middle aged, color-coordinated couple from Long Beach what brings them out here. After a short interrogation, they reluctantly offer that they’re here to be part of “a friendly community.”
“It’s very mellow, very pleasant,” says the wife. “And there’s candies everywhere.”
“Candies?” I ask, suspecting a euphemism.
“You know, sweet tarts, chocolate…”
But the most popular attraction here are the doctors. The second I walk onto the convention floor I’m approached by Sarah, a tall girl wearing what could only generously described as a skirt, who encourages to me to get “evaluated” by a doctor. I ask her what on earth she means.
“Uh… to get certified…” she says.
“Oh to smoke pot?” I ask.
There’s a reluctant adherance to the medical marijuana double-speak. The industry types all know the lingo: pot is called medicine, or meds; growers don’t sell weed to dispensaries, they donate it. Part-timers like Sarah, on the other hand, have trouble keeping it all straight, so there’s a lot of ‘uhs’ and ‘ums’ before they tell you about “temporary certifications” and the like.
Customers– er, patients wait in a pen, clipboards on their laps, for a chance to go into what looks to be a voting booth to see a doctor, pay $80-$120, say they have chronic pain, or insomnia, or anxiety, and get their card.
“I can’t tell them what to say,” says Dr. Robertson, a tired looking physician with ghost white hair and, no kidding, an actual stethoscope around his neck.
“Does anyone get rejected?” I ask.
He rolls his eyes. The subterfuge is almost beneath him. Almost.
“That’s a loaded question,” he answers with one of those wink wink smiles.
Other booths that range from the completely random to the I-can’t-believe-they-make-a-product-for-that. There’s Cannagen, CannBe, CannaCare, Ganja Juice, a company called PVM that sells vending machines to dispensaries and the shadiest booth of all, Medical Marijuana Inc., whose sign proclaims them to be “America’s First Publicly Traded Marijuana Company.” They’ve got at a dozen people handing out flyers, each one less informed than the last, hawking what appears to be a pyramid scheme called The Hemp Network.
And there's Vinne Kumar, who's selling pistachios.
“They don’t have anything else to eat,” he says.
He obviously missed the Chronic Jerky booth.
And of course, the Prop 19 booths, some against, some for.
Proposition 19, or the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, is a thorny issue around here. The growers are against it, as it severely limits the space you can use to grow. The dispensaries will mostly come ahead if it passes, but many are against it anyway, saying it will lead to corporations taking over, and higher taxes and fees. But more importantly, if Prop 19 passes, it will lead to further uncertainty, and businessmen hate uncertain. (The consumers are largely for it and have a difficult time understanding why anyone in the world, much less anyone at HempCon, would be against it.)
The debate can turn oddly moralistic.
“We’re here to help sick people,” says Craig Smith (aka, the Cannasseur), a grower. “At this point, it’s not a good idea to legalize it, just so the man can reap the benefits.”
He denies that his point of view comes out of self-interest.
“Do I look like a rich person? I’m a farmer, dude.”
Or as Richard Eastman (who claims to be some sort of celebrity) puts it, “Some of work for God.”
Reach Hillel Aron here.