Free Marijuana For All: Oregonians Exercise the Right to Weed the People

“A line this long that never ends and everybody is happy,” marveled Jim Leighton, a 30-year Oregon resident. “Isn’t that great?” He and some 1,300 others stood in a queue that snaked around the block in the sweltering Portland heat Friday afternoon, waiting for entry to an event where they could get up to seven grams of marijuana for nothing more than a smile and a handshake.


Oregon is the fourth state in the United States, in addition to the District of Columbia, to legalize marijuana for recreational use for adults 21 years and older. But even after parts of the law went into effect Wednesday that legalized possession and growing of small amounts, marijuana still cannot be sold to the general public.

So growers and medical dispensaries at Weed the People found their way around the law by giving away their weed for free, some hoping to use it as a marketing tool later.

“We needed to throw an event to give away cannabis. I believe that no one has done this before,” said Rob Thompson, publisher of the local alternative weekly newspaper Portland Mercury, which organized the event.

On midnight Wednesday as the law went into effect, hundreds gathered on Burnside bridge in downtown Portland in celebration. The bridge was billowing with smoke as the clock struck midnight. But while the original plan was to hand out free samples of marijuana, the overwhelming turnout halted the giveaway.

Two days later, the free handouts proceeded as planned at Weed the People, thought to be the first formal event with free cannabis giveaways – after attendees paid a $40 admission fee to attend. 

The alcohol-free event lasted for seven hours, as attendees mulled around to test out smoking devices; relaxed on comfy chairs and listened to records in a “chill out area”; and waited in a line that wound through the inside of a warehouse to enter the “Grow Garden”, the highly secured and roped off area where they could pick up their free goodies. One growing entity, Green Bodhi Gardens, said it brought more than 2,000 grams divided into one-gram jars in anticipation of the crowds.

In November, Oregon voters backed recreational use of marijuana. Now, residents 21 years and older, can smoke privately but not in public view. They also may grow up to four plants, possess up to eight ounces in their home and an ounce outside the home. However, marijuana use in a car is not tolerated and leaving state lines with the cannabis is illegal.

The general consensus from the crowd was that opponents would become more accepting as legalization went into effect. Attendee Sam Bottemiller said: “People are going to start to realize the effect that it has not only medically but it is not as bad as they once thought it was. People don’t get violent like when they drink [alcohol].”

For now, state legislation has put a hold on the retail sale of marijuana. Medical marijuana dispensaries can still sell to medical marijuana license holders but not to the general public. Sales could start as soon as 1 October after lawmakers gavefinal approval to a sales program on Thursday.

Restrictions notwithstanding, “people want to celebrate,” said event organizer Josh Taylor. “Oregonians are big on sharing!”

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