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Which San Francisco Festivals Will Sell Marijuana?

We won’t have legal cannabis sales at 420. But with festival season approaching, here’s the inside dope on which SF events are planning to sell weed.

Party people were excited about recent news that we could have legal marijuana sales at 420 this year, with the expiration of On. Rafael Mandelman‘s legislation permitting the sale and consumption of cannabis at events in San Francisco. But the 420 buzz crashed when we found out the permits wouldn’t be ready in time for the April 20 bacchanal at Golden Gate Park.

Still, cannabis sales at San Francisco’s favorite festivals will take place in 2019. SF Weekly got in touch to see if there were any plans to sell cannabis at events the new rules say “could qualify” for this year’s pilot program; Outside Countries, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, How weird Street Faire, clusterfest, Carnival, San Francisco Pride, and Folsom Street Fair.

“We are very excited to participate,” said Patrick Finger, Executive Director of Folsom Street Events SF Weekly.

For their part, the organizers of Clusterfest tell us “We are considering our options.”

But as the 420 event learned, a festival needs more than just enthusiasm to get a license for legal sale or consumption of cannabis. The city requires any event to have a permit issued by the San Francisco Office of Cannabis, along with state-level permits.

“Until now we have not authorized any events”, SF Office of Cannabis Deputy Director Eugene Hillsman says, adding, “There have been a number of events that have shown interest in temporary cannabis permits.”

Hillsman also says that other events not listed in the 2019 pilot program may also technically qualify for pot sale permits.

“Others would be considered if they met the existing criteria,” he tells us.

It is not easy to meet these criteria. Festivals also require that state event license, which must be applied for 60 days before the event.

That’s a huge challenge for the first wave of San Francisco festival season events in May. For Carnival, that deadline expired on March 25. A Carnival representative confirmed that: SF Weekly that the organization has not applied for this permit for their event in 2019.

But the much-loved annual How Weird Street Faire may just get that historic, first-ever event license in San Francisco, even though it takes place three weeks before Carnival. That’s because How Weird has planned this day.

“We’re interested in the opportunity to sell, and we’ve been pursuing that with the city,” said Michael Gosney, cannabis-themed Green Alley producer on How Weird Street Faire. “We think we have a great demographic for that.”

However, How Weird faces an extremely tricky timeline to achieve cannabis sales in 2019. While sup. Mandelman’s legislation allowing these sales is now law, the actual regulations governing how these sales will work are still being written. No event in San Francisco should allow the sale and consumption of cannabis until these rules are in place.

“We’re all ready,” Gosney said, noting that they’ve partnered with the Emerald Cup, which already has the necessary license for state events. “Our event happens to be the first candidate event to take place as these regulations become final. It’s up to the wire.

“We’re not counting on it, but we’re willing to have sales if we can,” he says.

The How Weird Street Faire will decide in mid-April whether to continue selling cannabis. (Outside Lands, Barely Strictly Bluegrass and San Francisco Pride did not comment on questions about whether they planned to have cannabis on the menu.)

How Weird Street Faire has the advantage of being on the street, not in a public park where smoking is illegal. But Mandelman is working on waivers that will allow for a one-day waiver from smoking bans in San Francisco parks for interested events.

Smoking in parks is just one of the many sticky issues facing cannabis events. They also need rock-solid plans to prevent underage consumption or unauthorized sale, and to make sure no supply gets lost or ends up in the wrong hands.

Models exist for doing this successfully. The Emerald Cup and High Times Cup have both held cannabis festivals at carnivals, the only places California had previously allowed sale and consumption at events.

We spoke to people who made sure events like this were held legally and compliantly, to get a sense of what buying and smoking marijuana at festivals will really look like.

“There will be a beergarhollow, a ‘ganja garden’ model,” said Ryan Bush, head of partnerships at cannabis tech company Meadow.

You may know Meadow as the software company that “powers” the menu portion of your favorite pharmacy and delivery service websites. But Meadow is also licensed as a cannabis event organizer and its technology has been used to ensure licensed events are distributed and sold compliantly.

“The cannabis consumption and sale are always in a separate section of the events,” explains Bush. “You have to be 21 to enter that area, and you have to go through some kind of security.”

Furthermore, not just anyone can set up a shop and sell marijuana.

“You have to be a licensed delivery service or a brick-and-mortar pharmacy,” Bush said. “You also need to apply for a temporary event permit to go off-site and sell at an event.”

Even with strict restrictions, there are no guarantees that San Francisco Rec and Parks would ever allow smoking in places like Golden Gate Park. And as evidenced by a recent San Francisco Examiner op-ed against marijuana smoking at events, the festivals still have a lot of work to do to win over non-smokers.

“They’re all looking for a way to reduce the perceived nuisance that will be there, with the smoke and the smell,” Bush explains.

But an unspoken factor is arguably the biggest hurdle to marijuana sales at events — many of San Francisco’s biggest festivals are financially fueled by huge sponsorship deals with alcohol companies. These drink brands may not appreciate people emptying their wallets at a boutique, $80 eighths instead of endless cups of Bud Light and Smirnoff, so the alcohol sponsors could stand up to the competition from cannabis.

This could be offset by a huge increase in tourist revenues at these festivals. People already come from all over the world to attend events such as Pride and Folsom Street Fair, and the lure of legal cannabis could make these events an even bigger tourist attraction.

People have been smoking weed at these popular parties for as long as they exist. While a lot of red tape is still delaying our green dreams of festival booths selling marijuana, chances are you’ll be able to legally purchase cannabis during San Francisco festival season this year.

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