Cypress Hill has made no bongs about where its allegiances lie. The venerable South Gate-raised rhymers have been teaching America how to get high and the right ways to do it, since Bush père owned the Oval Office. And since 1998, the group’s struck the match for the Cypress Hill Smokeout, along with Guerilla Union (the organization behind Paid Dues and Rock the Bells).
Following a hiatus, the festival returned last year with performances from a reunited Sublime (minus the late Bradley Nowell), Goodie Mob, the Geto Boys, Redman & Method Man, and Slipknot. This year’s event, slated for Oct. 16 at San Bernardino’s NOS Events Center, features headlining performances from Incubus, Manu Chao, Nas and Damian Marley, Erykah Badu and MGMT.
But perhaps the most interesting story about the festival’s latest incarnation is that it boasts a dedicated consumption area for medical marijuana patients. The fruits of an arrangement brokered between Guerilla Union and local municipal and law enforcement officials, the safe haven is the first known pact of its kind in Southern California concert history. In advance of the festival, Pop & Hiss spoke with Guerilla Union’s Chang Weisberg about how the deal went down.
What was the process behind persuading the local authorities to permit this sort of safe haven for medical marijuana cardholders?
It was a long one. We had to get the OK from the police department and the city of San Bernardino. None of them will endorse what we’re doing, or even say that they’re behind this. However, they took a major step by saying, ‘We’ll work with you, we’ll give you this opportunity and privilege.’ It stems from having succesfully executed Paid Dues, Rock the Bells and the Smokeout for over a decade.
But this is about more than just a place where people with medical marijuana cards can smoke marijuana freely. We have a medical marijuana expo where we promote activism, compassion and education. We believe that medical marijuna is the gateway to responsible tax-regulated consumption. Obviously, big alcohol, big medicine and big tobacco fan a lot of negative stereoytypes regarding cannabis.
How is this sort of arrangement going to work?
If you have a verified recomendation or card, you will be allowed to enter the venue and go to a specific area and smoke — provided that you’re over 18. We’re creating our own reality in allowing patients to exercise their rights. They’ll be able to smoke it and vaporize it, but I don’t think we’ll allow people to eat it. I don’t need the kind of press that the Electric Daisy received.
This sort of arrangement isn’t unprecedented. In Northern California, several concerts have done similar things and in the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum where the Oakland A’s play, you can smoke in a dedicated smoking area if you have your medical marijuana card. Eventually, we hope this is going to lead to people being able to walk into Wal-Mart or Rite-Aid and get their medicine, whether it will come in cigarette form, or salves, or lotions. Or better yet, to educate people to grow their personal amounts and save their money.
Have you faced opposition from anti-drug elements in the community?
Definitely. Every time we throw a show, there’s always going to be negative stereotypes that surround it. But we’ve worked with the authorities in a meaningful capacity for a long time. When you run an event for 40,000 people without riots or violence, you’re always dealing with narcotics and crash teams. Before our hiatus, there were local groups that called me the devil like they did to Ozzy Osbourne, but we weren’t exactly biting off bats’ heads or burning Bibles. From our perspective, we’re bringing in $4 to $5 million of revenues from the hotels that are booked to the traffic that businesses and gas stations receive.
The Inland Empire has the highest unemployment rate in Southern California. We’re trying to generate a positive commercial impact and bring positive energy. What we’re doing can have a positive effect, not just for medical marijuana advocates, but eventually for schools and colleges and the hotel bureau. We have a massive fiscal impact. I hate the cliche, but we put the heads in the beds.
Will you be giving any of the proceeds from the show to medical marijuana-related advocacy groups or to the forces in favor of passage of Prop. 19?
As we always do, we’re putting a $1 charity charge on the ticket. This time, it will be going to Americans for Safe Access, which is the largest medical marijuana group. As for Prop. 19, I believe that taxation is the way to go. However, if you talk to anyone well versed in medical marijuana, there are some flaws in the bill, so we haven’t officially taken a stance either way.
Do you think the Smokeout’s precedent will inspire other festivals to attempt to have medical marijuana consumption zones?
I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction. I’ve spoken to Paul Tollett at Goldenvoice about it. I’m not saying that next year, Coachella will have a consumption area, but I think that we’re going to tip the balance in that favor.
Will there be doctors on-site to make sure you’re covered in case of medical problems?
There will be doctors on-site so that nonpatients can potentially be authorized that day and for a nominal fee become patients. But we’ve always had that inside our medicial marijuana expo. However, not everyone will become a patient. We’re going to try to turn away as many people as we can, because the big man is watching us, as well they should. Narcotics officers will be in the building, but they won’t be threatening or rude. It’ll be done in the most positive manner possible.
Will it be perfect the first time? Probably not — but we have a stellar lineup and for the first time in their lives, thousands of people with medical marijuana cards will have to smoke without fear of hiding or going into the crowds. It’s going to be like the day you turned 21 and were able to buy a beer legally. It was only a big deal that day, but you certainly never forget it.
— Jeff Weiss
Photo: Cypress Hill performs at Lollapalooza 2010 in Chicago. Photo: Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press