Click photo to enlarge
In this Sept. 3, 2011 photo, a man rolls joints for during the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo in Oakland, Calif. The marijuana street fair turned out to be a popular destination this weekend, with people waiting in long lines to attend the event. Besides vendors, speakers, music and other offerings, organizers say the event also includes a designated area in front of City Hall where those with a valid medical cannabis card will be able to smoke marijuana, organizers said. (AP Photo/The Oakland Tribune, Dean Coppola)

What were Oakland city officials thinking?

Labor Day weekend, the city hosted a pot-smoking International Cannabis and Hemp Expo -- on City Hall grounds no less.

The pungent marijuana smoke was so thick that anyone walking past Frank Ogawa Plaza could get a contact high.

Oakland officials worked with festival organizers to set up zones where individuals with medical marijuana cards could smoke pot in public -- without fear of arrest. City Hall was a designated "215 area" -- a reference to Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for personal medical use.

People who had valid medical cannabis cards were allowed to smoke, vaporize and ingest marijuana -- incredibly right in front of City Hall.

For those who did not have cards, no problem. Street vendors sold 50 percent off cannabis cards and trailers offered on-the-spot medical exams enabling people to become instantly legal and join in the festivities.

People traveled from far and wide to experience their own personal Woodstock.

City officials, however, apparently didn't want any permanent evidence of people smoking pot with City Hall as a backdrop. They banned media photographers and videographers from taking images of the tokers in front of the building.

News organizations should not have allowed City Hall to get away with such blatant censorship. There were no security issues. No legitimate reason whatsoever to restrict what the media could photograph.


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In fact, the excuse that city officials gave for the ban was ludicrous.

It's not, they said, that they didn't want those particular pictures publicized. Rather that the they wished to keep the public park area in front of City Hall smoke-free.

We're confused. Pot smoking, which is illegal under state and federal law, is OK, but cigarettes are not?

Organizers billed the street festival as a way to increase public awareness of the hemp industry and medical marijuana community. It was held near Oaksterdam University, an institution that trains people to enter the medical cannabis industry and has been one of the major advocates for marijuana legalization.

We can't imagine how the city could be so foolish as to promote a hemp festival -- with full knowledge that it would be public pot-smoking event. Then, to allow it right in front of City Hall?

This was never the intent of Prop. 215 -- a law that was intended to allow people with certain medical conditions access to a drug that could help them.

Did anyone bother to question what kind of message officially sanctioned pot smoking sends to our youth whom we are already struggling to keep away from drugs and alcohol?

Did anyone think that just maybe it wasn't too bright to encourage illegal activity in a city that is battling a major crime epidemic?

The last thing Oakland ought to be doing is broadcasting to the world that this is a city where anything goes.