Will the Federal Government knock the “festive” out of festivals?

Jay Lauren

First Round: Feds 1, Cannabis Cup 0.

This past weekend, a very different type of Cannabis Cup was held outside of Las Vegas. An estimated 10,000 people attended, and marijuana was consumed in defiance of Federal warnings, by festival attendees who intended to smoke their marijuana, and eat it too. (And vape it, and dab it.)
This year’s festival was held on Native American tribal land, which falls under tribal authority and Federal authority. Last week, Nevada U.S. DOJ Attorney, Daniel Bogden, warned both the Cannabis Cup organizers and Moapa Paiute tribal authority that marijuana could not be legally bought, sold, transferred, or consumed at the festival. The letter sparked off rumors of a possible shutdown, DEA crackdown, raids, and arrests. In the end, through organization and correspondence between the Cannabis Cup, the Moapa tribe, and state and county authorities, vendors were notified of a strict non-sale policy, while security and the Moapa tribal police made sure the festival went off without a hitch.
Closer Federal scrutiny not only might put a damper on holding events on Native American tribal lands: a change in Federal policy might make the Festival scene less festive. There is no law, in any state, that allows for public sale and consumption events. The Cannabis Cup and Seattle’s Hempfest, among dozens of others, have existed in an area where law enforcement has simply looked the other way. Festival organizers are no strangers to the uncertainty this brings – last year, just two months before the event, Adams County refused to issue a permit to allow the Cannabis Cup to be held at the Denver Mart. (The festival was then relocated to San Bernadino, CA.)
Nothing will knock the festive out of festival as much as Federal prohibition of public consumption. A marijuana event without marijuana isn’t much of an event, and it’s certainly not a “festival”. (Imagine having to bring beer to a Beerfest? The whole purpose of a Beerfest is to allow festival-goers to sample the goodies!) With marijuana, the Feds don’t have to target individual smokers, only the organizers of events, and a few hundred vendors. A few high-profile arrests would certainly impact both sponsors and the types of vendors willing to pay to exhibit.
The next test of public will vs. Federal intent may be coming up on 4/20 this year. Part rally, part advocacy, and part just good-old-fashioned fun, marijuana’s unofficial annual holiday on 4/20 brings out thousands across the country to public events and gatherings. But the concept of Federal enforcement may be meaningless in this context, unless the Feds can stop the day from happening. (They can’t do that, can they?)
Also, here’s a thing about prohibition: if big events become an area of increased Federal scrutiny, smaller, more nimble events will fill that void. We’ve been to sales and consumption “pop-ups” that notify ticketed attendees of their location the night before the event, and bring in over 1000 people. Feds be damned: marijuana will find a way. Local, state, and Federal regulation will introduce far better controls, and produce far better results, than any attempt to prohibit and ban what’s been going on anyway.