Photo by GoaShape on Unsplash | legalization
Photo by GoaShape on Unsplash

Music festivals are a big part of the music industry. But where are they going in the future? We’ll be exploring that in our series The Music Festival of the Future.

In one of the more dramatic changes of opinion among the American public, the legalization of marijuana has quickly gained support, nearly inverting the dynamic from ten years ago. Around 61% of adults now say that marijuana should be legalized. Which is to say, more likely than not, one day legalization will happen and that day is definitely on the horizon.

While such a decision would rightly be lauded as a strong step forward among prison reformers, social justice advocates, and more, it’s worth also considering the impact legalization will have on music festivals and the music and live events industries.

Field Trip Music & Arts Festival legalization
Field Trip Music & Arts Festival

We’ve written before about the safety concerns around drug use at music festivals and how festivals should approach it. While it would still need to be an investment from music festivals to address concerns, it would help alleviate some costs by allowing them to treat marijuana like they do alcohol, instead of treating it like harder drugs. Since most places that are legalizing now seem to still be making the legal age of consumption and purchase 21, for all ages and 18+ festivals, this would still be a concern, but only insofar as alcohol is.

However, on the business side, there are a whole new set of things that must be considered with legal marijuana. The alcohol comparison before might’ve given you a hint. As legalization takes place, cannabis companies are able to come out of the shadows and participate in the market like many other companies. Which includes many of the things companies do. Like advertising.

Canada, which recently became only the second country to completely legalize marijuana consumption nationwide, is beginning to have to confront this issue. The federal health department has recently decided it will crack down on marijuana businesses that are advertising at music festivals, raising concerns about some companies engaging in corporate sponsorships and other promotional activities that go against the Cannabis Act itself.

The issue at hand is that the act strictly prohibits such companies from promoting its products to minors, a clause that likely would make it into any legalization bill in the United States or the United Kingdom as well. While legalization won’t happen in Canada until October 17th, companies are beginning to experiment and see what they can do ahead of that date.

While the companies’ names have not been released by Health Canada, according to The Canadian Press, some of the companies under scrutiny include Canopy Growth Corp. for their activity at the Field Trip music festival and Pride Toronto, and Aurora Cannabis for their activity at North by Northeast.

A Canopy Growth Corp. greenhouse legalization
A Canopy Growth Corp. greenhouse

A spokesperson for Canopy Growth Corp. defended the company’s practices as solely educational and focused on the responsible use of its product, and claimed the company had consulted with counsel and was actively working with regulators to remain compliant with the law.

However, a Health Canada spokesperson posited that companies were attempting to take advantage of the gray areas around the new law in order to raise brand awareness while they still could.

While most of the scrutiny so far has fallen on the cannabis companies, for the music festivals themselves, it seems they are content to let the companies use them without much thought. Going forward though, music festivals may need to take a more proactive stance when it comes to being compliant with laws and protecting the interests of all their attendees. Much like regulations regarding advertising related to the sale and consumption of alcohol and tobacco are subjects music festivals need to be aware of because marijuana will likely follow a similar path. Music festivals cannot simply abdicate responsibility in this area, even early on, as music festivals in Canada seem content to do.

Marijuana can be fun and relatively safe, at least more so than other legal products like alcohol and tobacco. However, there are still risks associated with them, particularly for minors. For music festivals that have an outsize impact on these developing minds, their choices need to be smart, responsible, and protect the interests of their fans.