The smoke rose in bursts from the crowd and mingled in a hazy cloud. Those who weren’t too busy inhaling cheered when midnight struck.
It was July 1 and recreational marijuana had just become legal in Oregon.
“This is history in the making,” said Leeyah Pham of Portland as her friends took turns at a marijuana pipe.
Hundreds of people took over the Burnside Bridge’s north sidewalk Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, spilling into the roadway and blocking multiple lanes at various points throughout the night. It was loud and energetic, with activists stirring up the crowd with megaphone-powered chants like “Free the weed” and “F**k the DEA,” people openly smoking marijuana and equally openly sharing it.
As of July 1, it is legal to smoke and possess marijuana for recreation. It’s still not legal to smoke in public, nor is it legal to sell marijuana.
“I feel free,” a man exclaimed over the fireworks that erupted seconds after midnight.
The law allows people to have 8 ounces at home and 1 ounce when in public. Four marijuana plants are allowed per household.
Though some told The Oregonian/OregonLive they felt they were part of something historic — something they would tell their grandchildren about — others had a simpler reason for attending the gathering.
“I’m just here to get weed for free,” said Phillip Piper, who was traveling from Tennessee.
Prior to the event, Portland NORML, an activist group representing marijuana smokers, had said online that some people will be handing out free weed on legalization night. And a man who goes by “Porkchop” repeatedly announced through a megaphone that he had 420 pounds of weed to hand out.
The Oregonian/OregonLive could not confirm Porkchop’s claim of possession or his largesse. But some at the event were definitely generous.
At about 12:30 a.m., a crowd swarmed two women who were handing out joints to anybody who was quick enough to show them an ID proving they were older than 21, the legal age set by state law.
The women said they were giving out joints to promote Ideal Farms, the marijuana grower where they work, and to “share the love.” They described the experience as surreal.
“I never imagined you’d be able to hand out joints in the street and it would be acceptable,” Kristin McKinnon, 25, said.
But the fight for marijuana-smokers’ rights is far from over, said prominent activist Russ Belville, the executive director of Portland NORML. Among other things, Belville cited the fact that people can lose their jobs for smoking marijuana as a serious problem.
“We still live under Jim Crow discrimination as cannabis consumers,” Belville said. “We want to have the same equal rights as beer drinkers and cigar smokers.”