A big bush of cannabis greeted visitors near the door, where 1,400 people stood in a long, snaking line, waiting hours to get their hands on one thing: seven grams of free marijuana.

This was Weed the People, and organizers looked to make good on their promise to celebrate Oregon’s newfound freedom to obtain and consume recreational marijuana.

As of July 1, every Oregonian can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public (that goes up to eight ounces at home). Since no recreational market is set up, people can’t legally purchase the drug, but they are allowed to obtain it from licensed growers for free.

That’s the loophole Weed the People exploited – with full support from Portland Police – though “free” meant paying $40 to get in the door.

Nobody seemed to mind paying the price. The event started at 2 p.m. Friday, and by 2:30 a long line wound around the block at Metal Craft Fabrication (an industrial building in north Portland), forcing hundreds to wait several hours in the heat.

Sarah Lehman, 21, and Stephen Brunette, 26, remained upbeat at the back of the line.

“I’m really excited to see what’s going on and how this is going to play out,” Lehman said. “This is a big event.”

“I have no expectations,” Brunette explained. “I have no idea what I’m about to walk into.”

At the other end of the line was a veritable stoner’s paradise.

Marijuana plants potted in the open. A lounge with several couches, a turntable and a collection of records. Vendors educating people about THC and CBDs. In a fenced-in yard out back, food vendors sold lunch to hungry crowds. Companies selling vaporizers and bongs gave people free hits.

Attendees lit pipes and joints, blowing smoke in the open, and no law could stop them from doing it.

But obtaining the free marijuana – what most people were there to do – required patience. Once inside, people found themselves standing in yet another long line, this one snaking through the inside of the building up to the “grower’s tent,” where growers stood at a small group of tables covered in one-gram bags of pot.

It came in names foreign to those used to nondescript bags from black market dealers: Canna, Bubba OG, Blue Dream, Mystery Haze, Night Nurse, Obama Kush.

The crowd there bubbled with excitement, but people fidgeted anxiously in line just behind.

The room was hot. People stood shoulder-to-shoulder. A few passed out.

In the air-conditioned belly of the building, organizers with the Portland Mercury discussed the dilemma at hand.

They had sold 1,336 tickets, cannabis columnist Josh Infante Taylor and publisher Rob Thompson explained, but the building could only hold 500 people inside (another 500 could fit out back). They scheduled the event to run from 2 to 9 p.m., but by 5 they began to worry that attendees wouldn’t get their free samples in time.

“We have samples for every ticket we sold,” Thompson assured. “The line feels longer than it is.”

In a city where recreational marijuana events have struggled just to get off the ground, Weed the People represented an effort that, while it had its issues, was unprecedented.

“There were certain things at an event like this that I always wanted to see,” Taylor said. Things like free samples, no outside cannabis, no alcohol and, perhaps most importantly, a focus on the people growing the plant.

“All I’ve wanted to do for years is support growers,” he said. “It feels good.”

Out at the tables of free samples, Steve Bailey, an energetic grower from Portland-based Wildfire Farms, was ecstatic. He was there giving away samples of Tangie, an aromatic strain that doesn’t pack a wallop, he explained, but offers a pleasant high.

To see people obtaining and consuming the plant free of prosecution is more than just neat, he said, it’s meaningful.

“People have bled for this industry, have gone to jail for this,” he said. “I started with an ounce in my sock drawer, now I’m up to a 2,000-square-foot facility.”

Yes, there were long lines and yes, people had to pay $40 to obtain their free marijuana, but Weed the People was historic nonetheless. In cities around the country, carrying around seven grams of cannabis can mean serious jail time. In Portland on Friday, it was a cause for celebration.

It meant freedom to consume a drug people many had already been consuming, it meant freedom from fear of arrest for doing so, it meant the opportunity to smoke, to eat and to vaporize freely – a freedom many in Oregon will be exercising enthusiastically.

“If you had told me four years ago that this would happen, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Bailey smiled. “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

— Jamie Hale | [email protected] | @HaleJamesB

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