Marijuana Takes Center Stage at U.S. Music Festivals

Legalized marijuana is pushing into the mainstream this year at public music festivals and expos, where cannabis companies are visible event sponsors. Longtime «counterculture» public events are being overshadowed by splashy live cannabis displays and events such as «stoned yoga» and even cannabis wedding expos.

Nowhere has the mainstream marijuana wave been more evident than California this summer, where multiple music events have permitted live consumption of pot for the first time and sold cannabis products on the premises. This is possible under new permitting rules developed by the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, which has issued 16 temporary cannabis event licenses so far, said agency representative Alex Traverso.

The new permit process allows sales of marijuana at outdoor events, initially only at county fairgrounds, but now expanding to other locations.

«Music and cannabis have been hand in hand forever,» said Jon Capetta, vice president of content at High Times. The company hosts the «Cannabis Cup» expo event in multiple states with live music and competitions for the «best cannabis.»

Under the new rules, this year’s northern and southern California events featured live sales of the product, as well as open consumption.

In the past, California concert-goers could sometimes furtively smoke pot in a «proposition 215» corral, so-named after a law that allowed medical marijuana in public, Capetta said. But the new rules allow for marijuana to be consumed openly.

In California, these new cannabis events are being marketed as luxury experiences. Earlier this month, the Northern Nights Music Festival at the Mendocino County fairgrounds hosted a $260 three-night overnight/camping music festival where recreational cannabis was sold and on-site use was allowed. Concert-goers had the option to rent a «glamping» luxury tent and to participate in «stoned yoga.»

The new big-money cannabis marketing is overshadowing weed’s more countercultural history. For example, for decades, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park has held a hazy «420» event in April at a spot called «Hippie Hill.»

But the park’s upcoming Outside Lands Festival — which draws about 210,000 people yearly — may feature sales and consumption of cannabis this year. Organizers have applied for a cannabis events permit from the city’s Office of Cannabis, the city said.

«Grass Lands,» the festival’s cannabis-themed area, provides «the perfect place to celebrate statewide marijuana legalization and educate people on how it can be a part of their daily lives,» the festival’s website says.

Cannabis companies are branching into other entertainment events such as comedy clubs and after-parties at the Coachella music festival this year, Capetta said.

«Anything that can be better with cannabis becomes ‘cannabis content,'» he said.

The rise of cannabis festivals hasn’t been completely smooth. Some recent marijuana-themed music events have crashed and burned when they failed to get buy-in from local authorities.

In Canada, where marijuana has been legalized across the country, the city council of Vaughan, Ontario voted in July against outdoor smoking, delivering a fatal blow to the «Journey» cannabis-themed music festival planned for the end of August at Boyd Conservation Park, north of Toronto.

In a Facebook post, the festival complained that Vaughan’s city council was «on the wrong side of history.» Journey organizer Murray Milthorpe couldn’t be reached for comment.

Last summer, the Chalice music festival, which applied for a live-consumption event for the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds, was nixed by the Victorville, Calif., City Council.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, where recreational marijuana is now sold, a decades-old «Freedom Rally» at Boston Common is still planned for the last weekend of September.

The 28-year festival’s purpose is to «educate the public about cannabis, the war on cannabis, and to promote cultural and political changes through that education.» Along with the Seattle’s Hempfest, and Denver’s Mile High 420 Festival, the event is one of the oldest pro-pot rallies in the country.

Massachusetts and Nevada, where legalization also took place recently, are becoming sites for high-end cannabis events, too, such as the Sensi Nights cannabis convention.

Boston and Las Vegas are also now sites for an expanded nationwide cannabis wedding expo, which advertises itself as serving millennials with «traditional wedding vendors plus specialty cannabis products and services.»

«Throwing entertainment events infused with cannabis is definitely a new learning curve,» Capetta said. «But there are still some gray areas, because history has been built around prohibition, and that needs to be sorted out.»

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