State Health Department bans medical marijuana dispensaries from attending the Scranton cannabis festival
The organizers of the fifth annual Scranton cannabis festival (to be held this year on April 20 in a public park in Scranton) were shocked to learn that this year, legal medical marijuana dispensaries and growers had been banned from participating by the State Health Department. Many dispensaries had already contributed substantial sums to help sponsor the festival and paid up to $8000 apiece for a booth at the festival before receiving the surprising news they weren’t going to be allowed to participate.
No cannabis products are sold or given away at the festival and it is intended to be a purely educational opportunity for cannabis users, enthusiasts, and anyone curious about the product. The head of the organizers, Jeff Zick, has stated that they expect a crowd of around 10,000 this year. The dispensaries, who currently serve around 100,000 residents of Pennsylvania, had been planning to simply provide educational information about their products, their possible uses in treating medical conditions, and how legitimate patients can legally obtain medical marijuana products. They along with the festival’s organizers were surprised and dumbfounded at the Health Department’s decision. Zick stated the festival was always orderly and law-abiding, there were no illegal drug sales at the event, and they hadn’t ever received so much as a traffic violation in past events.
Although it is true that all marketing and promotional material produced by legal medical marijuana dispensaries in the state need to be approved by the state’s office of Medical Marijuana, the festival’s organizers and the dispensaries were still completely blind-sided by the decision and are mystified as to the real motivations behind the decision. The Health Department stated that they didn’t consider the festival to be a “medical event” and thought it was inappropriate for dispensaries to participate. One dispensary owner, Chris Visco, speculated that the Health Department thought the festival was just going to be a bunch of stoners hanging out in a park, selling illegal cannabis products to each other, and basically running amok while using illegal recreational marijuana.
Chis Goldstein, a spokesperson for the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that he thought the state’s decision to ban the dispensaries from participating was short-sighted and against the state’s own interest. One goal of the legal dispensary program is to try to enroll users who are currently using illegal marijuana products to treat their health problems, to encourage them to become legal users. Reaching out to this population during events such as the Scranton festival is an excellent means of encouraging these individuals to become legal users, according to Goldstein.
An additional complication that could have affected the Health Department’s decision is a planned event called the Cannabis Cup being held the day before the festival; the Cannabis Cup was also organized by the festival’s organizers and there is mention of it in the festival’s promotional material. Although no cannabis products will be sold or given away at the actual festival, attendees of the Cannabis Cup, after each paying $450, will be hosted at a hotel and given a variety of marijuana products to try out and then judge based on some set criteria. One of the major sponsors of the Cannabis Cup is a large marijuana seed company based in Canada, clearly trying to promote its strains of marijuana via providing samples and hoping they would win the Cannabis Cup. It is possible the state Health Department mistakenly thought marijuana samples were going to be handed out during the festival based on the inclusion of this marijuana judging event in the festival’s promotional materials. Zick stated that the Cannabis Cup was not part of the festival and was being held at a different location and on a different day, and re-emphasized that no cannabis samples would be handed out or sold at the actual festival.
It is also possible that the state department was reluctant to allow legal Pennsylvania marijuana dispensaries to participate in the festival because the organizers of the festival are outspoken supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana and the state department assumed this year’s festival would push this concept. And thus they banned the legal dispensaries from participating because it might have been construed to indicate the state supports recreational marijuana use; the state’s Medical Marijuana office has refused to take a public stance on legalization of recreational marijuana. A lawyer specializing in marijuana laws, Justin Moriconi, said that he agrees with the Health Department’s decision because the festival is obviously a recreational rather than a medical event, and thus it would be inappropriate for legal medical dispensaries to participate. Goldstein disagreed and said he thought setting up educational booths promoting legal dispensaries at festivals, concerts, major sporting events, and at any other well-attended public event would promote the state’s goal of legalizing all current users of medical marijuana.
There are several bills to legalize recreational marijuana that have been proposed in the state government, but their passage is considered unlikely because of universal Republican party opposition. Neighboring New York, New Jersey, and Maryland may successful legalize recreational marijuana soon, which may change the situation in the Pennsylvania government in regards to this issue.
The Scranton festival has been held every year since 2015. It was originally intended to increase people’s interest in medical marijuana and to advocate for legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The fifth annual event, which is free for the public to attend, is expected to feature three stages being constantly played by dozens of bands. In addition, there will be food vendors and vendors selling a variety of products, such as home-made soap, hemp clothing, CBD oil, artwork, crafts, and many other niche products. The organizers of the festival plan to present it this year although they say they will lose thousands of dollars from the banned dispensaries. They plan to continue working with the state Health Department, hoping to reverse its decision before this year’s festival.