By Art Cosgrove
Cannabis freedom is a global cause that draws enthusiasts from around the world to Portland.
The Global Cannabis March commences at noon Saturday, May 5, at downtown Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, Also known as the Oregon Cannabis Festival, this annual expression of marijuana rights features speakers and bands all singing the praises — some literally — of cannabis and the people’s freedom to use it.
Portland’s favorite, intentionally weed-infused group, Mack & Dub and the Smokin Section, headlines the festival. Mack & Dub’s Jay Mack, formerly of The U-Krew, is expected to speak about the movement to spread legalization and normalization to states that haven’t embraced marijuana as broadly as Oregon.
“I was a rapper with The U-Krew, and Dub was an artist who had started a studio called Trillion Cuts,” recalls Mack of how the group started.
Mack already is a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for his contributions with The U-Krew, who had national charting hits in the burgeoning rap scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Mack and Dub got together at Portland’s World Famous Cannabis Cafe in 2010 and birthed the concept of a rap/funk/soul band focused on promoting marijuana culture.
“At this particular event, Madeline Martinez spoke,” recalls Mack. “And her words were so powerful and so meaningful, that as an artist I felt that I need to transcribe her words into music to get people out to vote, to legalize marijuana.”
Martinez is a festival organizer and speaker who also heads Oregon’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“We continue to march for freedom here in Oregon,” says Martinez of the event. “It was legalized a couple years ago, and now we’re sitting here with more roadblocks being put in front of our industry’s growth.”
One of the main obstacles Martinez cites is the prohibition on using any form of cannabis anywhere in public, at any time. And unlike alcohol, which has a much more established and well-financed industry behind it, marijuana still can’t get even temporary licensing for major events, such as the march or dozens of industry happenings that take place all over Oregon and the West Coast.
“We’re trying to create a space where we can be treated with dignity and respect — and consume cannabis out of public view,” says Martinez.
More maddening for legal advocates is the fact that the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act, which went into effect in 2016, effectively killed the potential market for indoor vaping lounges — or any hope of actual smoking lounges — by making all vaping of any kind illegal in public spaces. This is a personal battle for Martinez, who founded the World Famous Cannabis Café, widely recognized as the first venue in the United States for publically enjoying cannabis. Open from 2009 to 2016, the cafe closed in response to the new indoor air-quality law.
“Patients came there to utilize their cannabis in a group and enjoy some entertainment,” says Martinez of the Cafe. “The Indoor Clean Air Act stops me from having a business.”
When Martinez got involved with the Global Cannabis March and Festival in 1999, it was called the Million Marijuana March, organized primarily from the East Coast. It now goes on in over 200 cities across the world, with its main goal the removal of cannabis from the federal government’s schedule of controlled substances, where it’s currently Schedule I, denoting no medicinal value whatsoever.
“And we all know that it’s a wonderful medicine, a medicine for our bodies and for our planet,” says Martinez.
In addition to Mack & Dub and the Smokin Section, the musical lineup also features the eclectic and soulful Portland band Gaea, a three piece with strings and vocals that is hard to classify and a perfect fit for the melange of social missions and societal visions gathering at the festival.
“Music has a way of breaking color barriers; it’s always been a part of every revolution and every real movement in America,” says Mack of his plans for the band, his speech and the whole event. “Artists are always able to find that one common ground — and it’s music.”
The Oregon Cannabis Festival is from noon to 5 p.m. at S.W. Sixth and Morrison streets in downtown Portland.