VT: Cannabis, Music Festival Forges Ahead

Photo Credit: Jake May

Organizers behind The Original Green Mountain Cannabis and Music Festival aren’t giving up despite some challenges along the way.

“Social media platforms have flagged our content as mature simply over the use of the word cannabis in our domains!” says a post on the event’s Facebook page. “With prohibition ending July 1 in Vermont and many states, it’s unfortunate the platforms have not recalibrated their criteria regarding what is deemed as a red flag warning. Our event is about awareness and music, but it’s mostly about enjoying the day with like-minded people.”

Organizers are not able to “boost” the event, meaning pay for Facebook posts to reach a wider audience. Instead, they are asking users to share the page.

The festival is celebrating the law legalizing recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and older. Vermont will allow possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and up to four immature plants and two mature plants.

The event is scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 1, at Layla’s Riverside Lodge in West Dover. Badfish, a Sublime tribute band, is headlining. Other performances will come from Jen Durkin’s Soul Power, Buddahfly and Fresh Perspective. About 20 vendors are anticipated.

Tickets will be available at the door, $40 for general admission and $100 for VIP. More information can be found at theoriginalmountaincannabisandmusicfestival.com. Only those 21 and older will be admitted. The festival has been advertised as bring your own beverages and cannabis.

After the Select Board denied his request for an event grant in a 3-2 vote, inn owner Sandy MacDougall said he is putting his own funds into the festival. Board members Sarah Shippee and Dan Baliotti voted in support. Select Board Chairman Josh Cohen, Select Board Vice Chairwoman Victoria Capitani and board member Joe Mahon opposed.

There was some concern about the optics of supporting the event as a survey sought the public’s feedback on whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries or recreational marijuana retailers to operate in town.

“We don’t know where the town sits yet,” Cohen told the Reformer before survey results were released Monday. “Yet someone’s asking us for $12,000 or $14,000 to support him.”

Voters opposed medical dispensaries 86-57 and opposed recreational sales 97-47 while property owners supported medical dispensaries 18-11 but opposed recreational sales 18-13. A proposed ordinance prohibiting both types of sales is being drafted and will be voted on by the Select Board at a future meeting.

A name change for the festival was proposed by members of the public during the May meeting. The festival also falls on the same day as a concert by the town as part of a summer series at Dover Town Park off Route 100. And there were questions about whether attendance would be as high as organizers expect.

Cohen told the Reformer he worried whether MacDougall had given himself enough time to market the event with it being about 45 days away at the time of the meeting. Cohen wondered if ticket prices were too high and whether it should compete with a concert with similar genres being hosted at Mount Snow a week later. He said he felt it was better to err on the side of caution.

“It was a tough place to be,” said Cohen.

The funding request came in later than the 180 days that applications are supposed to be submitted ahead of the event. But MacDougall said other organizers have received funding despite grant requests coming in later.

“There may have been some,” Cohen admitted. “I believe one or two of the more regular events … so there was some history there.”

Cohen understands the difficulty an organizer other than Mount Snow might have planning that far out. He recalled rejecting Dover Historical Society for grant funds from the same source — local 1 percent option tax revenue, which is earmarked for economic development programs — at a recent meeting. The funding ended up coming out of the town’s general fund to stay within guidelines.

Cohen said the board is discussing a potential policy change with the town’s economic development director.

“Because we do want this kind of stuff, where we can bring people to the valley who stay at the inns and eat at the restaurants when there isn’t snow on the ground,” he said. “That’s a great thing for the valley.”

Police Chief Randy Johnson attended the meeting and had subsequent conversations with MacDougall about expectations.

“Smoking pot in public is still illegal under the new law,” the meeting minutes say. “Police will take any action that is deemed necessary at the time.”

Johnson told the Reformer each situation could be different “and we will just have to see.”

“Maybe no one will smoke, maybe everyone will smoke, maybe two people will smoke — who knows?” he said. “And we will deal with each one as it arises.”

Johnson said civil tickets can be given to people for smoking marijuana in public in Vermont, with financial penalties of no more than $100 for the first offense, no more than $200 for the second offense and no more than $500 for the third or subsequent offense. The law considers public areas any street, alley, park, sidewalk or public building other than individual dwellings. And public accommodations include schools, restaurants, establishments or facilities with goods for sale. Johnson believes the inn falls under the latter category.

Johnson expects to have at least two officers for security at the event. MacDougall said he also will be contracting with a private security group.

Festival organizers have talked about Dover officers turning a blind eye to Minus Zero, the electronic dance music festival held in April at Mount Snow.

Johnson said he told MacDougall, “We will do things that are deemed appropriate at the time just like we did at Minus Zero.”

Johnson had not anticipated Minus Zero going so well and reported that viewpoint to the Select Board.

“We did not have people running around smoking marijuana out in front of us,” Johnson told the Reformer, noting that people could hide drugs during bag searches at entry. “We did kick people out who were talking about and discussing selling stuff. So people were dealt with up there.”

Before the festival at Layla’s, officers will be having a meeting about how to respond to situations at the festival. Johnson worries that a strong odor could prompt complaints along Route 100 and the Valley Trail that the inn abuts. He said he supports having a concert or event that brings money to the town but he is against the celebration of marijuana. He has been outspoken in his opposition to the town hosting medical marijuana dispensaries given that it is still illegal on the federal level.

Baliotti, a Select Board member who owns a coffee shop on Route 100, told the Reformer he wishes MacDougall “all the luck in the world.”

“Any kind of event that comes into the town is beneficial,” Baliotti said. “If we can do Minus Zero, we can certainly do this. And if it succeeds, maybe he can do other concerts. If not, we can go back into the dark ages.”

Baliotti said he believes MacDougall is “pushing the envelope.”

“However, I don’t think we had anything to lose by having the festival,” said Baliotti, who does not consider himself for or against marijuana but felt the event was “too soon.”

MacDougall said no pot will be sold at the festival. He believes stigma has kept supporters away. He said he is getting tired of hearing people call marijuana a gateway drug.

“Too many people don’t know the facts,” he said. “They just go by hearsay.”

MacDougall said other states where weed is legal have increased their tourism by large numbers. He hopes to grow the numbers here and generate more local 1 percent option tax revenue.

MacDougall said attendees can bring their own blankets, chairs and coolers with alcoholic beverages. He sees the show as a way to appeal to marijuana users as a demographic.

“We’re celebrating the fact the state passed the law with an educational component, and food and music,” he said. “We’re not promoting smoking. We’re promoting awareness of what the laws are and providing a venue to hear some great music.”

MacDougall expects to bring in 1,000 to 1,500 people. The festival is only one event of several planned on his property this summer.

Heather Conner, festival administrator, said the others are not tied to cannabis or education around the drug. The plan is to host volleyball games, farmers markets, a croquet tournament with a potluck supper, a pig roast with live music on July 4, a square dance and more. Vendors will again be sited at his property during and after the Blueberry Festival parade.