Calgary festivals prepare to launch weed gardens

As we move closer to legal cannabis, Calgary festival organizers are planning and talking about creating pot gardens

But BYOP gardens won't be the cash cows that beer gardens have been

With the legalization of cannabis fast approaching, our city and society are facing some debates over, well, dubage. (CBC)

You've cut loose to the music. You've danced up a storm. You've been to the beer gardens, but are you ready for a pot gardens?

With the legalization of cannabis fast approaching, our city and society are facing some debates over, well, dubage.

A host of Calgary summer festivals are gearing up to throw open their gates and welcome thousands of patrons to outdoor events that combine every conceivable musical genre, fireworks, culinary delight and culture. But there's the question of where legalized weed fits into all this summertime frivolity?

Matt Zabloski, lead for Calgary's Cannabis Legalization Project, spoke with the Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday about the city's plans for pot gardens

Later Tuesday, on Alberta@Noon, host Kathryn Marlow fielded calls from across the province to see where Albertans stand on the subject.

Consumption ongoing already

Zabloski emphasized that for many festival organizers, the question isn't weed or no weed: it's whether to create a pot garden that separates them from everyone who isn't consuming cannabis — which is what inspired the recommendation to look into creating pot gardens that went to city council back in early April in the first place.

"We've spoken to festival organizers, and they've indicated that cannabis consumption is something that's ongoing [at their festivals] already," Zabloski said.

As Canada moves towards legalization, Albertans are divided over how publicly citizens should be allowed to consume it, particularly at summer festivals. (CBC)

"It's an issue they're dealing with despite the fact it's currently a criminal charge. And they really anticipate, if there's not a [designated] place to consume, they will see more and more of it in the general populace at a festival or event [once cannabis use is legalized]."

The next best comparable to a pot garden is probably the beer garden, which has become a staple at various festivals over the years.

However, Zabloski pointed out a couple of significant differences, namely that no pot would be sold at a pot garden, unlike beer in beer gardens, which are big revenue generators for many festivals.

"We know the province isn't going to allow for sales and consumption at the same site," Zabloski said. "So these would necessarily be bring-your-own-cannabis type thing.

"Also, we want to address concerns that were raised by Alberta Health Services around being visible to youth and minors, so there will probably be some sort of screening associated with it as well."

Normalizing it

Dr. Catherine MacNeil said that is exactly why it's a bad idea to introduce the notion of a pot garden to a festival in the first place.

"It's not a great idea and not in the public interest," MacNeil told Alberta@Noon.

"I sympathize with the festivals and their issues with enforcement, but part of the reason behind allowing cannabis use in private spaces only was to keep it from being normalized and not inadvertently encouraging its use.

"If we have a pot tent or pot garden, with signage to show where it is, all of a sudden we are promoting its use and that goes against my understanding of the spirit behind the legislation," she said.

A University of Calgary researcher says that isolating cannabis smokers in pot tents or fenced-off pot gardens at festival is a happy medium. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

2nd-hand smoke concerns

Callers such as Tim Montour from Lloydminster and several others, expressed concern about being exposed to second-hand smoke, both for health and work drug-testing reasons.

"To put it into a central place, where people can smoke dope in a tent — it won't work," he said.

"The fumes alone — the second-hand smoke from pot — can go into my lungs. I get tested, when I go into the oil fields, and can test positive. It's happened to me before."

On the flip side, University of Calgary researcher Fiona Clement said setting aside designated areas as pot gardens at festivals is a good idea.

"I support smoking tents at festivals because I think it represents a happy medium, where we can set an area in a thoughtful way that is away from the stage, away from where the majority of the public will be," said Clement.

"Taking into consideration things like the wind direction, we can ventilate it if we want to close it off, so that it goes straight up, not dispersed straight into the crowd," she added.

"We can appropriately control exposure to second hand smoke, so the people who are going into the tent, are going in aware they're going to be exposed — and we can direct anyone who chooses to smoke, which we know is happening at festivals already, to the tent."

You've been to the beer gardens, but are you ready for a pot garden? (CBC)

Other callers and email comments disputed the criticism that pot gardens 'normalize' cannabis consumption by pointing to our normalization of alcohol consumption, and turning a blind eye to all the youth that abuse that.

Research limited

Zablonski said the experience in American cities with public consumption is limited.

"We had an expert came up from Denver last year who spoke with city council," he said.

"They have fairly strict regulations down there. I understand there was a county just outside Denver where there was a Cannabis Cup Festival a couple years ago —but Denver itself is not allowing public consumption beyond a few very limited restrictions.

Legalization running behind

As far as the summer of 2018 festival season, it may be a moot point. 

"We've been planning for early July as was initially indicated by the federal government, but our understanding now is the Senate will vote June 7 and that it is likely to will be eight to 12 weeks thereafter before legalization comes into effect — so it gives us a bit of room," Zabloski said.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and Alberta@Noon.

Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as we build the city we want — the city we need. It's the place for possibilities. A marketplace of ideas. So. Have an idea? Email us at:



Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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