San Francisco has been hosting cannabis-fueled festivals in spite of tight prohibitions since the Summer of Love rocked Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury district back in 1967, but a recently passed city ordinance provides a pioneering legal framework for sale and consumption of marijuana at several of San Francisco’s most popular cannabis-tinged events, including 420 Day and the summertime Outside Lands music and food festival.

Authored by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, the ordinance is one of the first in California to legally implement AB 2020. Signed into law by former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2018, AB 2020 gives local jurisdictions the right to grant temporary event licenses for cannabis use and vending at any event they authorize.

Previously, marijuana consumption and sales have been limited to county fairgrounds or district agricultural events across California. But many public events and festivals in San Francisco with a long history of cannabis use take place in city parks and streets. The new ordinance updates city law to reflect the reality of San Francisco‘s landmark cannabis culture and formally provides a permitting process that city officials now predict will position the city in its rightful place as a trendsetter for cannabis events, canna-tourism and a new era of responsible, communal consumption.

The new ordinance updates city law to reflect the reality of San Francisco‘s landmark cannabis culture and formally provides a permitting process that city officials now predict will position the city in its rightful place as a trendsetter for cannabis events, canna-tourism and a new era of responsible, communal consumption.

“San Francisco is a city that has long embraced community festivals and gatherings as well as the cannabis industry,” Mandelman said in a press release March 20, 2019. “This ordinance is an exciting opportunity for us to lead the way on cannabis events, and to do so in a way that supports local businesses and puts public safety first.”

The ordinance will not go into effect soon enough to formally authorize cannabis consumption at the 2019 San Francisco 420 Day event held annually at Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park. The festival features performers such as Snoop Dogg, draws tens of thousands of people, and is known for producing a thick cloud of smoke that hovers over the open-air event like the city’s famous fog.

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Other upcoming festivals and events that are traditionally cannabis-infused may get permitted in time, including the How Weird Street Faire, the Clusterfest Comedy Festival, the annual SF Pride Parade, the Mission District’s Carnaval, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and Outside Lands, a three-day music festival that also takes over Golden Gate Park.

The Outside Lands website is already promising “groundbreaking experiences devoted to cannabis and mind-expanding talks” alongside musical performances from global stars such as Paul Simon and extensive art, food, and wine offerings.

San Francisco is a city that has long embraced community festivals and gatherings as well as the cannabis industry. Click To Tweet

There’s a Catch

San Francisco’s new ordinance, however, limits who is and what events are eligible for a cannabis event permit. Only regularly held events that have a history of widespread unregulated cannabis use are eligible for the permits, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The cannabis event permits, which are valid only for one-time use, will cost between $500 and $3,000, depending on the size of the attendance, and also temporarily will waive San Francisco’s notoriously tough no-smoking laws, which specifically ban smoking at outdoor public events.

While the San Francisco Examiner reported that some residents have voiced their concerns about secondhand smoke, especially at events that are not primarily cannabis-related, such as the Clusterfest Comedy Festival, the Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance 9 to 2. Besides stimulating the local economy and allowing for small canna-businesses to showcase their wares, the supervisors cited curbing youth access and protecting public safety in general as the strongest reasons for allowing permits for regulated use.

“Permitting cannabis at temporary events allows the city to maintain its commitment to public safety while creating opportunity for legal and licensed operators,” said Eugene Hillsman, acting director of the San Francisco Office of Cannabis, in a statement. “At these events, consumers will have a real alternative to the unregulated market.”

While Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park is the scene of unregulated outdoor cannabis consumption pretty much every day of the year, at the 2018 celebration of 420 Day several people needed medical attention, including anti-overdose treatment, after ingesting marijuana that was possibly laced with fentanyl, a potent opioid painkiller.

“The city has been permitting large and small events for decades and this will allow us to bring events that would otherwise feature an illegal cannabis component into a regulated space,” Mandelman said. “This builds on our existing event framework and provides a process for event producers to create safe spaces where legal retailers can sell tested, safe, and legal product to age-appropriate attendees instead of allowing illicit and unregulated sales to continue.”

San Francisco’s new ordinance is considered a yearlong pilot program that can be extended by the Office of Cannabis once it expires. As one of the first cities in California to open cannabis consumption lounges and with chauffeured and walking cannabis tours and other weed-related attractions gaining momentum, San Francisco can bolster its reputation as a mecca of the global cannabis movement by permitting outdoor public use at select festivals and events.