The Emerald Triangle has long been known as California's heartland of weed production, but as of this weekend it will also be known as the home of America's first legal-weed music festival. The Northern Nights Music Festival, held from July 19-21 at the historic Cook's Valley Campground, is the first multi-day music event that will allow adults over 21 to buy and use weed recreationally.
“We are going to have a cannabis retail and consumption area that goes by the name of the Tree Lounge," said Peter Huson, Northern Nights' co-founder and compliance manager to Billboard. "It is [a] 21 and over area and cannabis sales and consumption are restricted to that area. Essentially, it is an onsite temporary dispensary. It has all the same rules you would have at a dispensary, it’s just inside a festival.”
Over 20 local weed growers and brands will be setting up shop in the Tree Lounge, which will also have its own curated stage featuring live music and DJs. “We are going to highlight the history and the culture and the small [cannabis] farmers of Humboldt and Mendocino counties,” Northern Nights co-founder Andrew Blap told Billboard. “You can come meet the farmers and see the people who have been growing weed for you for years. You never really put a face to the name, but now with legalization you can.”
The festival also includes a number of cannabis-themed wellness activities for adults, including infused yoga, breathwork, movement classes, and workshops on how to use medicinal plants, including cannabis, for self-care. Another workshop will offer advice on using pot to foster connection in relationships.
Even though adult-use has been legal in California for well over a year, local and state laws have made it nearly impossible for a major festival to offer legal weed sales until now. Coachella, one of the country's largest music festivals, has notoriously banned the sales and use of anything weed-related on its grounds, although some nearby dispensaries were able to use a legal loophole to sell to festival-goers last year.
The Northern Nights festival has been able to openly embrace legal weed thanks to AB2020, a state bill that grants local jurisdictions the right to permit temporary events to legally sell weed to adults. Before this law went into effect earlier this year, cannabis events could only be held at state fairgrounds.
The festival organizers were also able to find a creative solution to another law that prevents alcohol and cannabis from being consumed at the same event. The Northern Nights festival grounds encompass two counties, which allowed the organizers to permit weed consumption in Humboldt County and drinking in Mendocino County.
“Everyone is going to be comfortable in both the alcohol and the cannabis spaces,” Huson said to Billboard. “We separated them by county because our event happens on the county line with the idea that you can demonstrate compliance and responsible management of these areas. We want to help get to a point in the future where you could have both cannabis and alcohol in the same county and at the same event.”
Although this is the first music festival to officially allow recreational weed sales and use, getting high at music festivals is nothing new. Pot became a major fixture of music festivals in the 1960s, from the infamous Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in 1967 to the definitive Woodstock festival in 1969.
Police began cracking down on pot at festivals after several people were killed at the Altamont festival in late '69, but intrepid stoners have still managed to smuggle weed into music festivals ever since. Humboldt County has continued to be a popular location for weed-friendly music events, including the Reggae on the River festival, and now Northern Nights.