Cannabis at Festivals and Events

August 27, 2019

Cannabis at Festivals and Events

When it comes to the impact of marijuana legalization on Canadian festivals, things are still a little hazy. Health Canada’s Cannabis Act came into effect on October 17th, 2018, making this the first summer that recreational weed was legal in Canada – and the festivals and events industry has learned some important lessons.

Given the popularity of beer tents at outdoor festivals, it was reasonable to wonder whether we’d see event organizers try and accommodate cannabis users, too. Or would non-medical marijuana continue to be treated like contraband, as the industry struggles to grasp a law that is still in its infancy?

The answer, it seems, is: it depends on the region.

Municipalities Hold the Power

Though the Cannabis Act sets out federal laws and standards, specific laws on many marijuana-related issues are left up to the provinces and even municipalities. Cities are empowered to impose bylaws that are even stricter than federal regulations, so what’s allowed in Toronto may not be allowed in Montreal.

Organizers of the Journey Cannabis and Music Festival learned that the hard way. They settled on Boyd Conservation Park, located just north of Toronto in Vaughan, ON, as the site of their three-day event. In Ontario, cannabis consumption is generally allowed wherever tobacco smoking is permitted. However, individual municipalities have the ability to set their own rules – and the City of Vaughan did just that. As Journey organizers were busy planning their festival, Vaughan passed a bylaw that would prohibit consumption of recreational marijuana in all public areas – forcing cancellation of the event mere months before it was to take place.

However, other festival planners have been more successful in integrating the cannabis culture into their events.

Cannabis Lounges Across the Country

Toronto Craft Beer Festival, held every June at the Canadian National Exhibition fair grounds, added a pot patio (or “POTio”, as it was called) to its layout this year. It was billed as the first big venue to publicly allow cannabis consumption in Toronto. The festival converted its smokers lounge to a cannabis lounge, and the space was strictly alcohol- and tobacco-free.

Developed in conjunction with HotBoxCafe and Detonate Cannabis Agency, the lounge appeared to toe the line of what is and isn’t allowed by the Cannabis Act’s promotion provisions. The Act sets strict guidelines regarding the promotion of cannabis, and prohibits communications regarding price or distribution. A spokesperson for HotBoxCafe stated that the lounge was “within regulations”, as there was no cannabis sold.

Kitchener’s Ever After festival allowed attendees to bring up to 10 grams of marijuana this year, as long as it was pre-rolled. That works out to roughly 20 joints, according to experts. Cannabis users were required to smoke their joints in a designated smoking area, which was enclosed with temporary fence. The cannabis lounge was large enough to accommodate as many as 900 people.

Meanwhile, in Alberta, the Calgary Folk Music Festival added a designated cannabis consumption area this year, too. The area was fenced in, and screening added some privacy. Security staff was on hand to ensure those entering were of legal age – which is 18 in Calgary.

Consumption of recreational cannabis is prohibited in Calgary, but the city does grant permits for designated outdoor cannabis consumption areas, not unlike beer gardens. Festival organizers worked with the city’s bylaw and parks departments, as well as the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission, to receive an exemption to operate the designated area.

Since the Folk Music Festival is seen as a family-friendly event, the cannabis lounge was intended as a way to allow visitors to “experience the festival as they like to experience” – whether that meant smoking cannabis, or avoiding it. As was the case with Toronto Craft Beer Festival’s POTio, Calgary’s Folk Music Festival collaborated with a local cannabis player. Ambassadors from cannabis dispensary Four20 Premium Market were on hand to educate consumers and answer questions about non-medical marijuana.

Cannabis at Festivals: Tips for Success

So what have we learned from our first summer following legalization of weed? Festival organizers clearly recognize that marijuana will be consumed at their events – it likely always has been – and are trying to find a way to accommodate users on their own terms. By creating a safe and private place for cannabis consumers, they can better control consumption while also respecting attendees who prefer to stay away from weed.

Here are three key tips for success we’ve gleaned from the above examples, as well as events we’ve worked with this past summer:

  1. Don’t just assume the provincial regulations for cannabis consumption apply everywhere. Check the municipal bylaws to make sure cannabis is permitted in the area you plan to host your event. You may need to work with the city or provincial liquor and gaming commission to obtain a special event permit or exemption for cannabis. Be mindful of any pending legislation that may impact your event in the future.
  2. If planning to fence off your cannabis lounge, make sure it’s safe. Screening or scrim may be required by the city, and can add some welcome privacy. It also prevents marijuana from being passed through the fence mesh to underage attendees. But especially in large, open fields, screening on fence can become a serious hazard due to winds. Plan to reinforce your fence with t-bars, concrete blocks, or sandbags.
  3. Whether you choose to provide a designated consumption area or not, post your cannabis-related rules on your event website. For instance,Calgary Folk Music Festival communicated that the festival would be “smoke-free” outside of designated tobacco and cannabis smoking areas. If you are only permitting cannabis in certain quantities or formats (i.e. no edibles), make that clear on your event pages. Your attendees will certainly have these questions, so get ahead of them and be clear about the rules from the outset.

We learned a lot this past summer, and it was largely thanks to trial and error. There are still a lot of grey areas when it comes to cannabis in Canada, particularly where outdoor events are concerned. Your regional festivals and events association may be a great resource as you navigate local bylaws and best practices.

One thing’s for sure: the resourceful people of the events industry will continue to carve out a path for themselves as we all adjust to this new reality.

Author: Joanna Bieda

Joanna Bieda is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Modu-Loc Fence Rentals, and has been with the company since 2014. She loves writing and is a self-professed data nerd. She thoroughly enjoys teaching customers about all things fence via Modu-Loc's blog.

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