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Art by Sophia Valdes

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 S.F. events might plan to sell pot.

Party people were fired up over recent news that we could have legal marijuana sales at 420 this year, with the passage of Sup. Rafael Mandelman’s legislation permitting cannabis sales and consumption at San Francisco events. But the 420 buzz crashed when we found out permits would not be ready in time for this year’s April 20 bacchanal in Golden Gate Park.

Still, cannabis sales at San Francisco’s favorite festivals will be coming in 2019. SF Weekly reached out to see if cannabis-selling plans were afoot at events that the new rules say “could qualify” for this year’s pilot program; Outside Lands, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, How Weird Street Faire, Clusterfest, Carnaval, San Francisco Pride, and Folsom Street Fair.

“We are very excited to participate,” Folsom Street Events’ executive director Patrick Finger tells SF Weekly.

For their part, Clusterfest organizers tell us “We’re considering our options.”

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

“We have not authorized any events so far,” S.F. Office of Cannabis deputy director Eugene Hillsman says, though he adds, “There are a number of events that have expressed interest in temporary cannabis permits.”

Hillsman also says that other events not named in the 2019 pilot program could technically qualify for pot sales permits too.

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

These criteria are not easy to meet. Festivals also need that state event license, whose application must be submitted 60 days before the event.

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

But the beloved annual How Weird Street Faire may get that historic, first-ever San Francisco event license, even though it takes place three weeks before Carnaval. That’s because How Weird has been planning for this day.

“We’re interested in the possibility of having sales, and we’ve been pursuing that with the city,” says Michael Gosney, producer of the cannabis-themed Green Alley at How Weird Street Faire. “We think we have a great demographic for that.”

How Weird, however, faces an extremely tricky timeline to pull off cannabis sales in 2019. While Sup. Mandelman’s legislation permitting these sales is now law, the actual regulations governing how these sales will work are still being written. No San Francisco event will be allowed to permit cannabis sales and consumption until these regulations are in place.

“We’re all set up to do it,” Gosney tells us, noting that they’ve partnered with the Emerald Cup, which already holds the necessary state event license. “Our event just happens to be the first candidate event that’s going to occur right as these regulations are finalized. It’s right down to the wire.

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

The How Weird Street Faire will decide on whether they will pursue cannabis sales by mid-April. (Outside Lands, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and San Francisco Pride did not return comment to queries on whether they planned to have cannabis on the menu.)

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

Smoking in parks is just one of many sticky issues that cannabis events must grapple with. They also need ironclad plans to prevent underage consumption or unauthorized sales, and to make sure no supply goes missing or ends up in the wrong hands.

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

We spoke to people who helped make sure events like this were operated in legal and compliant fashion, to get a sense of what buying and smoking marijuana at festivals will really look like.

“There is going to be a beer garden, a ‘ganja garden’ model,” says Ryan Bush, head of partnerships at cannabis technology company Meadow.

You may know Meadow as the software company that ‘powers’ the menu section of your favorite dispensary and delivery-service websites. But Meadow also holds a cannabis event organizer license, and its technology has been used to ensure licensed events conduct compliant distribution and sales.

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

Further, not just anybody can set up shop and sell marijuana.

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

Even with tight 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 opposing marijuana smoking at events, the festivals still have a lot of work to do at winning over non-smokers.

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

But one unspoken factor may be the biggest hurdle for selling marijuana at events — many of San Francisco’s biggest festivals are financially fueled by enormous sponsorship deals with alcohol companies. These booze brands might not appreciate people emptying their wallets on boutique, $80 eighths instead of endless cups of Bud Light and Smirnoff, so the alcohol sponsors could oppose competition from cannabis.

This could be offset by a massive increase in tourism revenue at these festivals. People already come from all over the world to visit events like Pride and Folsom Street Fair, and the lure of legal cannabis could make these events an even bigger tourist draw.

People have been smoking weed at these popular parties for as long as any of them have existed. While plenty of red tape still delays our green dreams of festival booths selling marijuana, chances are high that you’ll be able to buy cannabis legally during this year’s San Francisco festival season.