Camping, cannabis, and live performances finally come together legally at the Northern Nights Music Festival , the first overnight music festival to allow recreational cannabis sales and use onsite in the U.S. Straddling the Humboldt and Mendocino county lines, and showcasing the cannabis culture of Northern California’s famed Emerald Triangle region, the festival is a sign of things to come as California AB 2020 allows for the integration of cannabis into popular public events across the state.

“The passage of AB 2020 opens the door for cannabis events wherever a local jurisdiction will approve it,” Peter Huson, the co-founder of Northern Nights Music Festival, told Weedmaps News. “Whether it’s a major festival or a farmer’s market, cannabis consumers have more opportunities to engage with brands on a personal level rather than over the counter at a trade show.”

Northern Nights is set to take place at the Cook’s Valley Campground on the banks of the Eel River, about 200 miles (322 kilometers) northwest of San Francisco, in the heart of the Emerald Triangle, a region known for producing top-quality cannabis. It will have its own Tree Lounge, where cannabis consumption is allowed and more than 20 local cultivators and manufacturers who will sell their products directly to attendees who are 21 or over. The Tree Lounge also will sport a stage for live performances, dubbed the “Tree Stage”, and a space for cannabis-related wellness activities including CBD-infused yoga, medicinal plants workshops, body work and more.

The main stage at the Northern Nights Music Festival in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. The event is California’s first overnight festival to offer legal cannabis sales and onsite consumption to its attendees. (Photo by Kristina Baky)

Humboldt County, which recently rebranded itself as America’s Cannabis Heartland, permitted Northern Nights for public cannabis consumption soon after California lawmakers passed AB 2020 in September 2018. The bill allows for local jurisdictions to grant temporary event licenses for cannabis sale and consumption for festivals and other events as long as the vendors have a state license under the Adult Use of Marijuana Act of 2016 to engage in commercial adult-use activity.

“This is a concert that has already been happening for years now and so they just wanted to add this sort of concessions component to have cannabis,” said Steve Lazar, Senior Planner with Humboldt County, “and we were able to do that as a pretty easy insertion.”

Live music and DJs play from several stages at the festival, which in 2019 will be among the first to allow legal onsite consumption now that a new law allows cannabis sales and consumption at a wider array of events statewide. (Photo by Glen Matheny)

Humboldt had already passed a county resolution in 2017 allowing cannabis consumption at private events. As a result,  the passage of AB 2020 at the state level gave them a “position that no one in the state was in, to be the first place in the country to allow this kind of event,” Lazar explained.

Northern Night’s Tree Lounge will be located on the Humboldt County side of the festival, while over on the Mendocino County side, a separate alcohol-consumption area means that attendees can enjoy the best of both worlds, but will have to cross county lines to consume either substance. Huson said the geographic separation was essentially a strategy to monitor compliance. 

“Safety and regulatory bodies want everyone to be safe and no one has seen a licensed cannabis sales and consumption area at a music festival before, especially one where there is also alcohol sales,” he said.

“The goal is to demonstrate our ability to produce a safe and responsible event with cannabis and alcohol sales happening at very large distances away from each other to start — separate counties in this case.  So if or when we propose to bring them closer together, we have a solid and compliant track record,” he said.

Before AB 2020, Proposition 64 limited legal recreational cannabis consumption to designated county fairgrounds and expositions. San Francisco was the first local jurisdiction to implement the bill, legalizing public consumption at a handful of festivals and events in public spaces that have histories of cannabis use even under prohibition. The city’s Outside Lands Festival, which takes place in Golden Gate Park, had a Grass Lands area in 2018, where cannabis education took place but sales or consumption weren’t yet permitted. The festival in 2019 could be the first in the city to fully adopt AB 2020 and have an onsite cannabis sales and consumption feature for attendees.

Huson said that it is thanks to the work of Salwa Ibrahim at Highland Events, who helped craft the AB 2020 legislation, lobby for its passage, and organize the Grass Lands area at the Outside Lands Festival, that Northern Nights can now be the first overnight festival to offer cannabis sales and consumption to its attendees. In its seventh year, Northern Nights was co-founded by three event production companies in Northern California, including Humboldt County’s World Famous Productions, and has been supported by local Emerald Triangle cannabis cultivators from the beginning.

One of six stages at the Northern Nights Music Festival in Humboldt and Mendocino counties will overlook the Eel River and beaches. (Photo by Kristina Baky)

The Tree Stage in the Tree Lounge is one of six stages at Northern Nights Music Festival. The main stage hosts headliners such as Big Wild, while smaller venues, including a River Stage that overlooks the beaches and green-glass water of the Eel River, showcase local and international talent. Adding legal cannabis consumption to attractions such as camping under the ancient redwoods and live performers and DJs aims to make the festival a pioneer in the global marijuana movement and a highlight of the Emerald Triangle’s emergence into the mainstream.


Feature image: Redwood trees and the campers beneath them take on a festive hue at the Northern Nights Music Festival. (Photo by Kristina Baky)