Cannabis consumption site half a kilometre from main folk fest stage praised and panned

Visitors to the first legal cannabis-consumption area at the Calgary Folk Festival had mixed feelings about the site, which is fenced off in a far corner of the festival grounds, roughly 500 metres from the main stage.

'We don’t really need to be penned in a corner, but it’s fine'

From left, Nathan Scherger, Shauna Hartsook and Darrell Hartsook discuss the pros and cons of the new cannabis consumption area at the Calgary Folk Festival. (Dave Rae/CBC)

Visitors to the first legal cannabis-consumption area at the Calgary Folk Music Festival had mixed feelings about the site, which is fenced off in a far corner of the festival grounds, roughly 500 metres from the main stage.

"We don't really need to be penned in a corner, but it's fine," said Shauna Hartsook, one of the first people to visit the site, which is described as the first of its kind in Alberta.

"I like that they have one instead of not having one," she added.

The 40th annual festival runs until Sunday at Prince's Island Park in downtown Calgary.

Marketing director Matt Olah said the festival had to obtain a special permit to allow for legal cannabis consumption in the park and adhere to "quite a few rules" in order to make it happen.

"It's [age] 18-plus. There's a security guard on deck while it's open. And we have some staff from 420 Premium Market here to answer any sort of cannabis-related questions," he said.

The consumption area is located near the festival's Stage 6, about 500 metres from the main stage at the other end of the grounds. It can accommodate dozens of people at once.

Surrounded by a chain-link fence covered in opaque black material, the outdoor venue contains several tables and chairs, as well as two hammocks for visitors to relax in.

'It lets people do what they were already doing'

Nathan Scherger was pleased that cannabis consumption is now officially accepted at the festival.

"It's great. It lets people do what they were already doing along the rivers, in a place where they can meet other people doing the same thing, find new friends, and have a spot they're not going to get kicked out of," he said.

"Plus, they got hammocks, too. You can't go wrong."

Nathan Scherger says he likes the new cannabis consumption site (especially the hammocks) but notes 'it’s a pretty far walk, honestly, from the main stage.' (Dave Rae/CBC)

If the goal is to contain cannabis consumption to one location, however, Scherger isn't so sure the venue will have that effect.

He doubts people taking in the headlining acts will walk all the way over to the site just to have a puff between sets.

"It's a pretty far walk, honestly, from the main stage," he said. "So I think that's still going to keep a lot of people smoking around the rivers."

The cannabis consumption area at the 2019 Calgary Folk Festival is behind those black walls. (Dave Rae/CBC)

Shauna's husband, Darrell Hartsook, also wondered why the cannabis area had to be so far removed from the main action at the festival.

"I think it's silly, because it's all the same air. I could be on the other side of this, and it wouldn't make any difference," he said, pointing to the black walls that surround the site.

He said he has a vaporizer that cost him $500.

"It doesn't bother anybody, no matter how close I am, unless we're inside a building," he added. 

"But we're in the outdoors. It's the great outdoors. No public use in Calgary is so idiotic. We're behind. We've got to get with the times in Calgary."

Festival will evaluate cannabis rules

From the festival's point of view, Olah said it was all about balancing the desires of different guests.

"If one does find that consuming cannabis heightens their enjoyment of the music, so be it, but also … we are family first, so there's young families here that don't want to be a part of that," he said.

"So any sort of festival experience one wants to have, we're hoping to be able to make that happen for them."

Matt Olah, the festival's marketing director, says the cannabis consumption site had to be far from the beer gardens by law. (Dave Rae/CBC)

As to why the beer gardens are so close to the main stage and the cannabis consumption area so far away, Olah said the festival was required to keep them apart.

"To be compliant with the laws, vices cannot be mixed, so we have to keep all vices separate," he said.

He said organizers have received "a very little bit" of pushback about the cannabis site from a handful of visitors who "expressed some concerns, namely, that we're a music festival first."

But at the end of the day, he said festival organizers also wanted to "allow people to use a legal product."

After the festival, he said organizers will debrief and then make any decisions about how — or whether — to handle cannabis consumption at future events.

"We're not even sure that we'll bring it back next year," Olah said.

"We're not committed to that yet. So we will see how it goes this year and then determine if it makes sense to implement it again."

With files from Carolyn Dunn


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