Hundreds gathered in San Lorenzo Park on October 22 for WAMMFest, an event held in recognition of continued local government support of medical marijuana collectives, despite the federal ban. Photo by Kyan Mahzouf.

San Lorenzo Park hosted an intimate marijuana-themed music festival this weekend. The Duck Island Stage featured three musical groups: Bayonics, The Green Lights and MoonAlice.

On Saturday afternoon hundreds came out for Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana’s (WAMM) ninth annual freedom and music festival. Patients and their supporters came together to celebrate the right to medical choice. Donations were encouraged, but not required.

WAMM threw the event in appreciation of local government for continually upholding Proposition 215, which allows the operation of medical marijuana collectives in California despite the federal ban on them.

Richard Johnson, a WAMM member and volunteer, said the discrepancy between state and federal law results in inconsistent enforcement.

“The question of medical marijuana has never been resolved,” Johnson said. “It’s always been a gray area between state and federal government.”

WAMMFest comes at a time of particular uncertainty for medical marijuana growers this year. U.S. attorney Melinda Haag announced earlier this month that she plans to close certain medical marijuana dispensaries.

“In the Northern District of California, I have decided to focus initially on [closing] stores that sell marijuana and allow people to smoke marijuana very close to schools, parks and other places where children learn and play,” Haag said at a press conference.

Haag said some dispensaries are in violation of state law in addition to federal law because they are located within 1,000 feet of schools and parks, a violation of Prop 420, passed in 2003. The IRS has been hitting California dispensaries like Harborside Health Center in Oakland with multimillion dollar tax bills.

California congress passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, or Prop 215, with 55 percent of the vote. It allowed for non-profit organizations to cultivate and distribute marijuana to seriously ill patients. WAMM co-founder Valerie Corral participated in the writing and passage of the bill.

Federal authorities under the Bush administration did not recognize the legality of medical marijuana and proceeded to raid growers and dispensaries in California. WAMMFest’s website notes the Corrals’ raid as a significant catalyst for the event.

“Our annual celebration was born in response to the Bush Administration’s attack on our collective garden,” according to WAMMFest’s website. “In 2002, 30 armed DEA agents raided the home of WAMM founders Mike and Valerie Corral, arresting them at gunpoint. Agents then used chainsaws to hack down the garden.”

Prop 420, the Medical Marijuana Implementation bill passed in 2003 through the California State Senate, outlined the rules and regulations for medical marijuana use and distribution. It also asserts medical marijuana is an issue under state jurisdiction.

Dale Gieringer, director of the California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said federal intervention in California has been a violent interaction.

“I really felt we were being raped by the federal government in 2002,” Gieringer said, referring to the Corrals’ arrest. “And last week, I felt raped again.”

Last week federal officers raided Matthew Cohen’s home in Ukiah, Calif. Cohen, owner of Northstone Organics, woke up at 6 a.m. to machine guns and handcuffs.

“Cohen has a medical marijuana cooperative permit and [proof of compliance] zip ties from the Sheriff’s Office, and was among the first of local growers to get the permit under the county’s new Medical Marijuana Program,” according to the Ukiah Daily Journal.

According to the article, Cohen worked closely with local law enforcement to ensure he was operating within state law, even participating in compliance checks with the county sheriff three times per year.

WAMM member Johnson said federal closures do not make sense to him.

“For me, there are many angles of the hypocrisy of federal closures,” Johnson said. “The ones who have that angle of control generally would tend to be the ones to be on the side of states’ rights. It’s interesting how they’re so silent on this issue because it crosses over that border into drugs.”

The enthusiastic WAMMFest crowd didn’t seem fazed by recent raids and threats of closure. For them, federal threats are routine. WAMM member Johnson said the festival came about as a resistance to Corrals’ raid and arrest.

“This festival was founded out of rebellion and justice,” Johnson said. “Marijuana drug laws are built on fear and wanting to control.”

During the Oct. 7 press conference, U.S. attorney Haag said her experience with medical marijuana dispensaries in her community has been negative. She said Prop 215 has been “hijacked by profiteers who are motivated not by compassion, but by money.”

“If you watch for a moment, you see cars pulling over, seemingly young, healthy people jumping out of the cars, running into the store, and emerging with paper bags full of marijuana,” Haag said.

Johnson said the federal government is trying to keep marijuana stigmatized and out of reach for patients. He and other seriously ill patients say they are tired of crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries.

“From a medical perspective, it’s very frustrating,” Johnson said. “Since ‘95 I have lived with AIDS. Marijuana has played a key role in my health care. The biggest threat to my health is that the federal government won’t allow testing to see if THC would benefit people and they actually intimidate doctors to not write prescriptions.”