David McNew / AFP / Getty Images
The days when concertgoers had to sneak off to a dark corner to purchase their marijuana from those shady figures depicted on neighborhood watch signs are quickly becoming history, as nine U.S. states have legalized recreational use, medical marijuana is now available in a total of 27 states, even more have decriminalized and north of the border the entire country of Canada has opted for full legalization.
Outside of North America, laws and enforcement vary, from notoriously permissive areas like Amsterdam to stricter nations like the U.K. Countries like Uruguay and cities like Barcelona have, in recent years, also taken steps towards legalizing recreational use.
The exploding North American cannabis market was estimated in 2017 to be worth some $9.2 billion and is expected to grow five-fold over the next 10 years to $47.3 billion, according to a study by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics. No matter one’s political and social views on weed’s legalization (which is still a contentious issue and subject to shifting political winds), the market’s growth offers opportunities for the live music business.
The music industry has always had a relationship with “the Devil’s Lettuce.” Rock ‘n’ roll was closely tied to the counterculture movement that many associated with mind-altering substances, many hip-hop artists have openly touted their fondness for Mary Jane, and Addictions.com recently performed a study concluding country artists sing about weed more than any other genre.
Historically in the U.S., even jazz musicians (see Louis Armstrong) were famous for their fauna-fondness.
The cultural connection between music and La Mota has meant use at many live events, and there has been a certain amount of “look the other way” when it comes to reefer, particularly at outdoor events.
“The concert industry, promoters, live entertainment people have spent our entire careers protecting our guests at our shows [if they are] using cannabis,” Jim Lewi of Red Light Management told Pollstar. “We’ve been trying to work with local police and municipalities saying, ‘Look, if someone is selling drugs, causing trouble, or is a nuisance, absolutely arrest them. But if they are smoking a joint and having a good time, leave them alone.’
“That’s kind of how things have worked in the concert industry for so long.”
Now, in states like California where recreational weed use has been legal since Jan. 1 a path for legal consumption at public events is starting to emerge. California’s legal marijuana industry was forecasted to hit $3.7 billion and to increase to more than $5 billion by 2019, according to BDS Analytics (via Business Insider) .
Red Light partnered with The Emerald Cup, a long-running cannabis event, and its founder Tim Blake in 2016 and the two have initially been focused on trying to put on an event that avoids the legal grey areas and set a precedent for a by-the-book, 100 percent legal shindig. The 2017 Emerald Cup in Sonoma, Calif., saw 50,000 attendees enter the Sonoma County Fairgrounds to legally sell and consume marijuana – including smoking and vaping – in designated areas.
Lewi said when the partnership was forged he was being approached by marijuana growers and accessory makers/distributors – vendors who were yearning for a legitimate event that they could do business at – and The Emerald Cup had the best reputation.
The Emerald Cup’s strong brand among broccoli lovers and the wealth of event production experience from Red Light Management have proven a winning combination, Blake said.
“We were doing [Emerald Cup] at a great level. But Red Light coming in, they were able to build that experience where they bring in NFL-type security so people come into the gates quick; handicap accessible flooring; all the little elements that a major event producer knows how to put into place to make the experience even more rewarding,” Blake told Pollstar. “The marriage between us has been a work of art, it’s been wonderful. Last year we had 500 vendors, and we had 1,500 companies on a waiting list trying to get in.”
Changes in regulation haven’t done all marijuana-themed events favors though, as the Cannabis Cup – which began in 1988 in Amsterdam and came to the U.S. in 2010 – was denied a marijuana permit by the city of San Bernardino, Calif., this year, meaning it had to proceed without sales, samples or smoking of the sweet leaf, according to the East Bay Express.
Similarly, Chalice Festival announced it was being postponed when Victorville City Council was less than welcoming of the cannabis event and the festival filed suit against California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control.
Still, as the legal sands shift, particularly in the Golden State, destination events may begin testing the waters to integrate chiba into the music festival economy. San Francisco’s gourmet music festival Outside Lands may be blazing the trail in this regard, having announced July 24 it is dedicating a specific area within the festival to ganja, appropriately titled “Grass Lands.”
The area will be “focused on the celebration, education and integration of cannabis products into daily life,” but will not allow for the sale or consumption of marijuana, according to a representative of the company. Grass Lands is inviting 14 cannabis companies as partners for the event, including Highland Events, which claims on its website it “specialize[s] in curating the best cannabis experience at mainstream music festivals and venues.”
Attractions in Grass Lands will include a “Greenhouse” with trained “budtenders” to offer cannabis education, a “confectionary” with edibles, a cannabis-themed farmer’s market and a delivery service that will not bring attendees the sweet leaf on site but will bring it to their home after the show.
Lewi and Blake agreed there will be growing pains in the short term as regulators and organizers who previously operated on mutual understandings must now formalize relationships and expectations. Still, the two plan to expand the Emerald Cup to a second California city outside of Northern California and a Canadian city in 2019, with eyes open for other markets that can clearly delineate expectations that allow the event to operate within the law.
Colorado was one of the first states in the U.S. to legalize recreational consumption in 2012, and Denver has been at the forefront of pioneering pot tourism. Councilwoman Kendra Black, who heads the city’s task force studying the impact of marijuana consumption areas, told Pollstar tourists cannot consume in unlicensed businesses [only one existing business has a permit for indoor consumption] or in public outdoor spaces, meaning their options are very limited.
“It is very difficult under the [current] business model to make money,” Black said. “I think private clubs could be a viable option. There are some operating in suburbs, but they are in a sort of legal grey area.”
Despite the red tape, there is money to be made in pot, as Colorado reported $1.5 billion in marijuana sales in 2017, meaning nearly $247.4 million in combined tax, license and fee revenue.
These numbers are attracting business figures from all different walks, including legendary promoter Michael Cohl, who announced May 18 he had joined the board of Civilized Worldwide, a cannabis media and lifestyle company. That board also includes Mitch Fox, former group president of Condé Nast.
Plenty of artists have also been eager to get into the business of chronic. Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, and the Marley Family are “usual suspects” when the subject of stickyicky branding comes up, but many more artists are operating in the space.
The Game actually bought stake in a Southern California dispensary, selling it to a national cannabis company last year.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Francisco Rendon on Pollstar
Published: July 31, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News