High Country: Could a cannabis lounge at Jazz Aspen Labor Day ever happen? | AspenTimes.com

High Country: Could a cannabis lounge at Jazz Aspen Labor Day ever happen?

Katie Shapiro
High Country

Earlier this month, I was lucky to experience one of the legal cannabis industry’s most historic moments yet: the first-ever consumption lounge and bazaar at a major music festival.

Outside Lands, held annually since 2008 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, first introduced Grass Lands in 2018, but was unable to secure the permitting necessary to make it much more than a brand showcase. This year, and only 36 hours before the gates opened, promoters obtained the OK from the San Francisco Office of Cannabis, granting Outside Lands a temporary permit to conduct adult-use sales and consumption on-site.

After entering festival grounds on day one, I beelined it to Grass Lands, where I was greeted by a second round of security to check my ID (entry was restricted to concertgoers 21 or older). Located just past the Polo Field — home to main stage headliners from Childish Gambino to Paul Simon — and literally and figuratively on higher ground, I made my way up a long flight of stairs stamped with pot leaves and the words “Welcome to Grass Lands.”

Upon entering the sprawling, shaded area, I felt my eyes well up with tears and my arms covered in goosebumps. While people have been lighting up to live music for a century, it was in this moment where the fight for and progress of this movement was realized.

Secluded from swarms of the 200,000 attendees Outside Lands attracted over the weekend, Grass Lands was a utopia. It was a place intentionally free of alcohol, where close to 20 of California’s leading cannabis companies could educate and connect with consumers. I picked up a pack of pre-rolls from Flow Kana and found some friends in one of three designated smoking sections within Grass Lands. After sharing a joint, I ventured back out into the madness of the mega-festival only to find myself yearning to return to its calmest spot. Those who attempted to return, but appeared too intoxicated, were turned away. Post-event, San Francisco officials reported that there were zero Grass Lands-related police calls.

For one Colorado-based edibles company, Outside Lands was the perfect opportunity to mark its expansion into California.

“Being part of something cutting-edge takes a lot of planning, which we worked on for the better part of the past year,” says Binske Executive Vice President Alex Pasternack. “Our brand is all about the celebration of life, art and breaking boundaries. We’ll look back on Outside Lands 2019 in the same way people remember Woodstock … if you were there, you get it. Grass Lands was exceptional, the consumers were excited and engaged; it was history in the making.”

Now three weeks later, on the eve of the 29th annual Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, I can’t help but wonder, could a cannabis consumption lounge ever happen at the pop music festival in Snowmass? Based on the town of Snowmass Village’s contentious track record on marijuana overall, it’s easy to just assume “no.”

But with Town Council finally giving the green light to a dispensary (slated to open this winter on the second floor of the Snowmass Mall) and legalization progressing worldwide, it’s inevitable the community will have to address the issue. Unlike Aspen Skiing Co., which has a clear reason for prohibiting cannabis due to its occupation of federal land, JAS takes over Town Park, owned by the town of Snowmass Village. Cannabis could be legally consumed here now. And JAS attendees have been consuming it illegally on-site since 1991 (or at least since my first time in 2008). But until there’s a change in leadership, the reefer madness mentality will remain.

The town of Snowmass Village declined to comment, but it did provide the verbiage included in its event contracts, which states, “In order to preserve the desired image of Snowmass Village as an inclusive and exciting community and resort, particular scrutiny will be focused on sponsors, exhibitors, advertisers and vendors of tobacco products or tobacco paraphernalia; sex products or paraphernalia; cannabis related products, paraphernalia and/or information. Snowmass Tourism reserves the right to, in Snowmass Tourism’s sole discretion, refuse to permit any sponsor, exhibitor, advertiser or vendor to sponsor, exhibit, advertise, vend or otherwise participate in an event.”

One substance that doesn’t seem to damage its “desired image” (often self-described as “family friendly”), though? Alcohol. Snowmass Tourism presents three dedicated festivals for beer, wine and cider, where impaired parents can openly imbibe while pushing double-wide strollers around Base Village. But still, local officials have yet to acknowledge the many post-legalization reports proving weed is far safer and less addictive than booze, with many Americans ditching one for the other — which in turn could create calmer, more controlled crowds at large events.

Jazz Aspen Snowmass wasn’t willing to talk about it, either. Fair enough, as the nonprofit is bound to the agreement in place until it’s up for renegotiation in 2021. It’s worth noting that five of JAS’ 25 sponsors this year are alcohol brands: Woody Creek Distillers, Larceny Bourbon, Corona Extra, Don Julio and Robert Mondavi. Do you know how many cannabis companies are willing to shell out even more dollars to participate in such a special celebration of music, ultimately supporting the organization’s important year-round calendar and education initiatives? Oh, and beyond participation fees, Grass Lands generated over $1 million in cannabis sales for Outside Lands in three days.

With Binske’s products on-shelf in Aspen’s dispensaries, Pasternack thinks an experiment like Grass Lands is what will eventually move the needle for long overdue, social-use initiatives locally and beyond.

He adds, “The consumers and the economy have already carved out the future for cannabis and it’s unstoppable now. Yes, I believe Colorado has made some progress, and it will only become more prevalent as the industry evolves. Remember, tourists visiting Aspen face the challenge of ‘Where can I consume?’ Think about it, they can’t consume in their car, hotel or public sidewalks, so there is a real need for consumption-friendly options — especially at organized events.”

And after seeing the success at Grass Lands, I am more hopeful than ever that one day, I will attend a cannabis-permitted concert in my own backyard.

Katie Shapiro lives in Snowmass Village. She can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.