In July, the Alaska Hemp Fest drew more than 1,500 people to the town of Wasilla for a three-day celebration of cannabis. The festival, in its third year, took place on private property and featured a typical spread of vendors, speakers and live music. But when the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office found out the Alaska Hemp Fest would also feature a smoking tent where of-age individuals could consume cannabis, they sent the event’s organizers a stern warning that public consuming cannabis was against the law and carried a hefty fine.
Undeterred, the Alaska Hemp Fest went on as planned. And yesterday, the Marijuana Control Office met to discuss what to do about it. Ultimately, the board voted without opposition to fine the Hemp Fest director $10,000. It’s the second fine the board has levied against a cannabis event in Alaska just this summer.
Warnings and Fines Aren’t Stopping Alaska’s Cannabis Events
Cannabis event organizers aren’t the only ones asking the Alaskan state legislature to review the rule banning all public consumption of cannabis. The Director of Alaska’a Marijuana Control Office Erika McConnell is also appealing to lawmakers to create an event permit to allow public cannabis consumption at marijuana events.
Still, it was McConnell’s memo to the board which prompted the vote to fine the Alaska Hemp Fest organizers $10,000 dollars. In the memo, McConnell cited Hemp Fest advertisements for a VIP smoking and dab tent and a buffet of cannabis-infused edibles. The ads even encouraged attendees to bring their own supply.
Ironically, it was the event’s organizer, Niki Raapana, who contacted the Marijuana Control Office first. Raapana had called to inquire about a rumor that AMCO planned to assess a $100,000 fine against her. The AMCO’s chief investigator James Hoelscher got back to Raapana and warned her that public consumption is illegal.
The AMCO issued similar warnings to the organizer of May’s Cannabis Classic. The Classic is another cannabis festival that offered attendees a chance to consume cannabis and judge different products for $350. But warnings and the inevitability of a fine didn’t dissuade Cannabis Classic organizers from holding the event either. And they’ve vowed to appeal the $20,000 fine they got from the AMCO.
Undercover Cannabis Regulator Busts Alaska Hemp Fest
Ultimately, organizers and regulators fundamentally disagree on the “public” nature of events like the Alaska Hemp Fest and Cannabis Classic. Raapana told Chief Hoelscher that the private tent didn’t count as a public place. But investigators say the tent was public.
Apparently, an AMCO agent purchased a VIP tent pass online. And when the agent used it to enter the tent, no one checked his ID. That misstep was enough for the board to decide the Hemp Fest had violated state law. VIP Passes, the board claimed, were available for anyone.
Cannabis-infused cupcakes were available in the VIP tent, along with all kinds of smokable and vaping products. And attendees only enjoyed them inside the tent.
The $10,000 fine, however, has $7,500 suspended. Which means, as long as the organizers don’t break the rules again, they’ll only have to pay $2,500 of the total fine.
Raapana and her music and communication director Nordica Friedrich insist they’ve done nothing wrong and will appeal the fine. Friedrich doesn’t see why cannabis events don’t get the same treatment as beer festivals or other alcohol-related events.
She also hopes regulators can bring the way they handle the two substances more into step with each other. You wouldn’t “go to a beer and barley wine festival and just talk about beer and barley wine and just look at pictures of it,” she said.