SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz leaders should decide Sept. 22 whether to lift the city’s smoking ban in San Lorenzo Park for the third year in a row and allow medical marijuana patients to smoke in designated tents during the annual WAMMfest celebration.
The decision comes two weeks after the City Council passed sweeping no-smoking bans for the entire city, including Pacific Avenue, Beach Street, Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and all city parks. Some parks, including San Lorenzo, already were off-limits to smoking.
WAMM’s request includes permission to errect a special tent to accommodate members of its nonprofit collective — many of whom are terminally ill — if they need to light up during the event. Another tent would be available to medical marijuana patients with proper patient identification.
“We just hope to have a great time in the park,” said Valerie Corral, co-founder of Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which sponsors the annual WAMMfest. “Create a day where there’s low stress and fun for people.”
However, Corral acknowledged the group is rebounding from last year’s event, where city leaders nearly denied WAMM’s request for an exception to the smoking ban as the festival has a reputation for attracting out-of-town visitors who spoke pot recreationally on the park’s expansive lawn. In addition, after the event a child-care provider for WAMMfest was identified as a registered sex offender. Corral said WAMM has vowed those problems won’t happen again.
Meanwhile, some city leaders are noncommittal on whether they would grant a third exception. Last year the council first split the vote on whether to grant a similar request, as one member was out sick and others said they supported the cause, but not the venue. After much discussion WAMM’s request was granted the following week.
This year, “we’re going to have to make sure they reduce their impact of secondhand smoke as much as everyone else,” Councilman Ryan Coonerty said. “The law was meant to cover all secondhand smoke, and secondhand smoke at WAMMfest is part of it.”
WAMMfest also pits two of Santa Cruz’s competing values against each other, as Council members two weeks ago unanimously approved expanding no-smoking rules to overwhelming public approval. But seven years ago Santa Cruz allowed WAMM to hand out medical marijuana on City Hall steps after federal drug enforcement agents raided their North Coast farm, and voters in 2006 directed police to make marijuana enforcement their lowest priority.
Police at last year’s event said they had no problems, and WAMM provided its own security. Corral said the group will do the same this year. Police spokesman Zach Friend said on Monday that his department does not plan to increase patrols for WAMMfest.
By By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER