Medical Cannabis Firms Barred From Festival
One of the largest and fastest-growing festivals in Lackawanna County took a blow this week when the state told the biggest sponsors they can’t participate.
The health department is prohibiting all state-permitted medical cannabis companies from sponsoring or otherwise participating in the Pennsylvania Cannabis Festival because it veers too far from a strict medical purpose.
Dispensaries and grower/processors are allowed to take part in specific types of public events, said health department spokeswoman April Hutcheson.
“If they’re doing a public event where they’re going to be talking about medical marijuana, those events are happening in forums that are medically focused,” she said. “They do participate in special events, but again, those events are either medically focused or in a vein where it isn’t a recreational event.”
The festival’s operators, Jeff and Amanda Zick, contend the festival was founded in part to build support for the state’s current medical cannabis law, which was signed in 2016, coincidentally, on the same day as the festival that year.
“This is a huge blow to the medical cannabis community, our sponsors and team,” the Zicks said in a joint statement.
The festival, scheduled for April 20, a day commonly associated with cannabis activism, brings thousands to Nay Aug Park. Last year, the fourth annual festival brought an estimated 10,000 people.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who stops at the Penn State Scranton campus in Dunmore today during his county-by-county listening tour on whether to fully legalize marijuana, was a keynote speaker.
Jeff Zick declined to say just how much sponsorship money is now off the table, citing a potential legal fight, but estimated at least a $20,000 loss to the local economy, money that would have been spent lodging VIP guests at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel and other money visitors would have spent during their stay.
Six companies had signed sponsorship agreements. A few more had inquired about sponsoring, and others had asked about simply setting up booths.
He started hearing earlier this week that companies were told to back out.
Then, on Friday afternoon, a department compliance officer sent an email to all permit holders clarifying its position.
“... we wanted you to be aware that the Office of Medical Marijuana ... does NOT support sponsorship or participation by any of Pennsylvania’s permittees at this recreational event,” the email reads.
The festival, likely the largest of its kind in Pennsylvania, was created to rally support for cannabis legalization, both for medical and recreational uses, and its earliest guests included many of the people who helped shape the current law.
“It seems hypocritical that they would deny participation in an event promoting ‘recreational marijuana,’ forgetting that only a few years ago our attendees were fighting for medical marijuana in PA,” said Jeff Riedy, director of legalization advocacy group NORML’s Lehigh Valley chapter, in a statement posted to the group’s Facebook page.
From the state’s perspective, regulators have to hold the line on what’s currently allowed under existing statutes, and recreational use advocacy, an obvious component of the festival, doesn’t fit the bill.
The Times-Tribune attempted to contact permit holders that had originally been listed as sponsors on the festival’s website, and others that have sponsored community events.
Of those that responded, most declined to comment on record for fear of retribution in a fledgling, intrinsically controversial industry.
Medical cannabis companies have been marketing themselves at non-medical events from the beginning.
Some recent examples include Beyond/Hello’s sponsorship of a Disco Biscuits concert in December in Philadelphia. Beyond/Hello is a dispensary company permitted to open one in Scranton and one in Hazleton in the coming months.
The grower/processor and dispensary company Cresco Yeltrah sponsored the Vine Rewind wine and music festival in Pittsburgh in July, and in August, the dispensary company Keystone Canna Remedies sponsored MusikFest in Bethlehem.
Dispensaries must submit marketing materials for approval, and request permission to participate in community events.
While Hutcheson said the health department never received documents requesting permission for those three specific events, medical cannabis companies say they’ve historically had no trouble getting the state’s blessing.
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