Star Trek conventions, comic book conventions, anime conventions: all affirmation that I do not exist alone in a vacuum - a nerd might be lonely, but a nerd is never alone.
But on Friday, Varga informs me about Hemp Con, a convention whose express purpose is to promote, sell, and legalize hemp.
Hemp is a soft durable fiber used in textiles, paper, and traditionally rope. The cannabis, or "bud" of the plant was a happy accident, a byproduct that found widespread use in the 20th century.
"I bet there's a good story there," Varga says slyly. "A great blog entry. Wanna go?"
Turns out he can't make it, but I'm hooked in. For a $15 daily admission at the LA convention center (and $7 for parking) I can see what it's all about.
At the convention center I'm not sure where to go, until I spot a woman in a gauzy skirt and leather bodice with feathers in her hair.
When in doubt, follow the hippies.
Outside the convention a long line moves quickly. A security guard checks back packs and bags, but he waves most people through with a cursory glance.
Hemp Con is held in the West Hall, a large double wide auditorium suitable for a car show, about two thirds of which is full of vendors hawking their wares. Almost everyone is wearing green: green T-shirts, green ball caps, green pants, green scarves.
"Attention, attention," a flat voice announces over the speakers, "Please be aware there is no smoking or vaporizing in the auditorium. Thank you."
I walk past a booth specializing in pipe cleaners, "For when you really need your pipes cleaned!" The vendor next to the pipe cleaner specializes in anti-odor sprays, "Guaranteed to get out the strongest of cannabis smells!"
There is a booth of "theoretical" marijuana plants beneath a rainbow of strobe colored lights, the perfect adornment for a Christmas tree. The booth vendor is in the middle of an explanation about how hemp grows best under a variety of colored lenses, the differentiated colors enables the hemp to absorb more ultra violet light.
Other vendors promote their dispensaries, all claim to sell the very best pot: the Valley, the Inland Empire, the City of Industry. One dispensary booth has a trio of young women dressed in low cut nurse outfits and white nylon stalkings. Another dispensary offers a promotional free pipe on the first visit.
There is a booth offering courses at "Amsterdam University", quality training for the cannabis industry. In a one weekend seminar you too can learn the ins and outs of the latest court decisions and laws as well as how to open up your own dispensary.
One booth has a collection of red, orange, and purple colored pipes. "Get your LOLLIPIPES!"
"Excuse me," I ask, "lollipops?"
"LOLLIPIPES! Smoke a bowl, then get rid of the evidence by eating it! Now in cherry, grape, and orange!"
"Doesn't resin get stuck in the pipe?" I ask
The salesman ignores me. Instead a well endowed young woman behind the counter pops a lollipipe in her mouth, sucking on it.
I pass by a mobile trailer. Nicknamed a "Tow and Grow", its advertised as a quiet odorless mobile grow room complete with 1800 watt vegetation chamber complete with a 4x8 hydro tray. "Never again will you need to build or tear down a grow room!" a salesman calls out. "Check it out and come inside!"
I peek in the trailer. Inside are rows of plants. A line of people waits patiently for the tour.
I walk by a pair of tattoo artists, both display banners for lawyers specializing in marijuana law. Both booths are busy, a man who looks like a member of ZZ Top is having his arm touched up with new ink. He's dressed in dark sunglasses and black top hat; body is covered in tattoos, he looks like he belongs at a voodoo festival.
Finally I arrive a booth full of vaporizers, the latest in marijuana technology. Small portable machines that run on batteries, electricity, or butane; vaporizers cook bud, but don't burn it. I'm told that vaporizers allow for cooler air and prevent "burning" but more importantly, use less bud.
A cute girl demonstrates a portable canister model, known as the Gravity Vortex, "As seen on Weeds!" The top half of the canister is filled with water, the bottom half is empty. The girl lights a small bowl on the top of the canister, causing the water to boil and seep into the lower half of the container as the top half fills with smoke.
After a minute she attaches a tube. "Now you can smoke it," she proclaims proudly, "Or you can do a "shot!" She opens the canister dousing her face in smoke. "Normally $100, now only $60! But we've sold out, so you'll have to put your name on a list!"
"Does the vaporizer use less marijuana?" I ask
The girl nods her head emphatically. "Oh yeah! I used to go through an eighth every three days. Now it takes me like, two weeks."
There are vendors selling pipes, vendors selling T-shirts, vendors selling marijuana cook books, and even a guy promoting his new dark comedy, "Bad Batch."
"You'll be able to download it on line!" he calls out.
I nod. April 2oth is official pot day.
"Hey!" a vendor cries out. "Did you know that smoking pot prevents cancer?"
I shrug. "I didn't know that. My sister has breast cancer."
"Then you need to tell her to smoke. It slows down the growth of cancerous cells! Here's a card to our natural medicines website! Check it out!"
"I'll be sure to pass that along."
"Don't hesitate, man! The more women that smoke, the more we can eradicate breast cancer forever!"
"Attention, attention. Please be aware that there is no smoking or vaporizing in the auditorium."
I pass by a whole sale nursery offering to sell clones of famous brand name strains: AK-47, Black Domina, Bubba Kush, Bubblegum, Green Crack, Hindu Skunk, the Hog, Jack Herer, LA Confidential, Master Kush, OG Kush, OG Purple, Pineapple Express, Super Lemon Haze, White Russian, White Widow.
All for a small donation of $15, plus $20 delivery fee. (Only to dispensaries and patients with verifiable recommendations.)
I ignore the resident psychic, give a sex toy booth a brief glance. Several people ask me to sign a petition to stop LA county from closing dispensaries.
"It's prohibition man! You know that in November there is going to be a "Regulate and Tax" initiative on the ballot!"
"You mean an initiative to legalize pot."
"Yeah, but we can't call it that. So we say regulate and tax."
I nod, makes sense to me. Language is everything. Republicans have been beating Democrats over the head for years with the "Death Tax" moniker.
I back away, watching the entire proceeding with a critical gaze. A full convention centered not around marijuana, but all the accoutrement's surrounding pot. Marijuana is no longer a drug, its an entire industry. If there are billions to be made selling and taxing pot, there are billions more to be made on marijuana paraphernalia.
Marijuana is a psychoactive drug used primarily for recreational use. Hemp Con is the happy byproduct; it's all about marijuana's medicinal use, merchandising and retail potential, its growers and legal issues.
From hemp to marijuana we've gone from marijuana to hemp.
The circle is complete.