At this year’s Outside Lands, a longstanding record was broken at historic Golden Gate Park when Childish Gambino’s performance surged the festival’s single-day attendance to a never-before-high of 90,000+ people. Hearts swelled when Paul Simon announced he would donate his estimated seven-figure headlining fee to San Francisco Parks Alliance and Friends of the Urban Forest. Later, minds were blown at Golden Gate Park when Bob Weir joined Paul Simon on stage to perform “The Boxer,” their first duet ever since meeting in Monterrey in 1967.
Yet, despite these musical milestones, the buzz worthy star of the annual three-day music and culinary extravaganza was Grass Lands. Even talent wanted in. “Going to Green Lands later,” Blink-182 singer and bassist Mark Hoppus informed the crowd during his set. “I heard all about you pot-smoking weirdos.” It seems this year we all came for the music but stayed for the weed.
Considered to be the founding mother of Grass Lands, Highland Events Co-Founder and COO Salwa Ibrahim has been working with the founders of Outside Lands for years to arrive at this moment. She and her co-founder of Highland Events, Martin Kaufman, anticipated an increased demand for properly permitted, legal and compliant cannabis at major events.
Salwa’s strategy? A cool and calculated effort to build trust; what began as a single BLUM Dispensary cannabis sponsorship and educational kiosk at Outside Lands 2017 has evolved carefully into making headlines as the first U.S. festival to offer legal sale and consumption of weed—including smoking it—inside Grass Lands. “We take great pride in having set the standard for incorporating legally sanctioned cannabis at large-scale events, concerts and festivals,” shares Salwa.
It seems that if Salwa builds it, everyone 21+ will come. It didn’t take long for word to spread through the festival that Grass Lands was the place to see-and-be-seen with weed. What began as a trickle and a turnstile at “SoPo” (South of the Polo Field) on Friday had evolved overnight into a steady stream of hundreds of curious festival attendees journeying to the Grass Lands entrance and taking on a very long, but surprisingly fast-moving, line. No matter which artist or culinary offering separated people in the larger Outside Lands environment, all fans became one inside Grass Lands.
With coveted privilege of touring with Salwa, the collective vision involved in the creation of Grass Lands came to life. “This year Grass Lands returned with the Town Square presented by Eaze,” explains Salwa. “Education is still key this year, so is bringing California’s best cannabis marketplace to life and highlighting new innovations in the cannabis industry.”
Cannabis culture at Grass Lands was a feast of people watching, with the vendors as diverse as the attendees. The vibe was warm and welcoming—almost a small-town feel. “A friend with weed is a friend indeed,” and “the first thing ever sold on the Internet was a bag of weed,” signage provided a disarming welcome to this year’s Grass Lands experience.
“More than 24 leading cannabis providers are here promoting education about cannabis,” explains Salwa. “They are excited to share their knowledge and expertise of their unique products, treat guests to demos and samples and process legal transactions.” No canna-snobs here. Adds Salwa, “This community is passionate and enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and experience; no question too obscure, no reason not valid, no preferred method frowned upon.” The canna-connoisseur and the canna-curious are all equal in the eyes of Mary Jane.
By design, all five senses came alive at Grass Lands with an endless invitation to touch, smell, observe, drink, eat, laugh, create and consume all things cannabis in this slice of new age small town America. Strolling through the four-acre space taking time to meet one-on-one with the diverse and alluring vendor pop-ups appealed to many. Others went straight to the Farmers Market and the opportunity to see every item for sale inside Grass Lands all in one space, complete with high-tech touch screens and instant gratification at the pickup line.
Filled with rich green foliage and a pot plant or two mixed in, the Greenhouse presented by Cresco set the tone upon arrival, designed to remind attendees and regulators alike that cannabis is truly just another plant, yet blessed with the ability to help you “rise,” “refresh” and “rest.” Southern California’s Moxie had an old-town gas station setup that allowed for concentrate consumption and had the necessary rigs required. Bloom Farms tempted with terpene tastings. PAX personalized each vape. Kiva Confections offered delicious and accessible confection edible samples in front of a glorious wall of melting chocolate. Nearby Cookies served as a spot to chill out and get familiar with the brand’s best hits including flower, pre-rolls and Cookies Cookies.
Next stop? To the approved consumption areas, of course, otherwise known as Grass Lands nirvana.
Despite the fact that the festival was granted the city’s first temporary sales permit just days before, Salwa and her team had the trust and full participation locked down by a community who was excited to be part of history and determined to make Grass Lands sales and consumption a reality. Through an unprecedented agreement with the City of San Francisco, the smoking ban was lifted inside Grass Lands on the condition that actual consumption would occur away from the point of purchase and in three specific areas only. Less than the state limit per day was allowed, at 2 grams of concentrate and 7 grams of flower. Nobody seemed to mind.
Through the smoke in any one of three “Consumption Lounges,” a smorgasbord of weed was consumed by an incredibly diverse crowd in a wide variety of ways and for what seemed like a variety of different reasons—remove aches and pains from standing at the festival, to win the creative and task-oriented bong building competition, to just chill or to even generate spontaneous and enlightened conversations out of thin air with strangers who will surely become fast friends.
Salwa and company turned this challenge into a dazzling outdoor opportunity with plenty of ashtrays, furniture and endless opportunities for fun photo ops in front of a Mary Jane statue resembling the Statue of Liberty and an enormous Grass Lands living sign.
At the Grass Lands Stage powered by Flow Kana, energy and creativity reigned as a consistent crowd came to learn about cannabis-themed cooking demos, laugh at pot-inspired comedy and dance around freely to weed-inspired musical performances. Now in its second year, the infamous Farm to Bong Carving Competition inspired three days of strangers coming together to create functional bongs out of fruits and vegetables. With expert knowledge from the Flow Kana team, no perishable bong pursuit wasn’t fully explored, no design too obscure. Even when a lighter failed, one Flow Kana genius produced a magnifying glass, dazzling the crowd by supplying a “Solar Rip.”
For three glorious days all was displayed for our education and enjoyment—edibles, concentrate, vapes, pre-rolls, flower and beyond—and all within plain sight of uniformed officers. Yet, for the cannabis community, this historic victory has not been without cost.
Like any tight set who had come together through struggle, the Grass Lands vendors, and the greater California cannabis community, strives to remember and take care of its own. That includes continuing to ensure progress is closely tied to its longstanding priorities of social justice and compassion projects. That means working to get non-violent cannabis offenders out of prison, pushing through important legislation to donating product to those in need legal, or lifting up operators who otherwise could not afford to participate in legal business or massive special events such as Grass Lands. Providers like Reese Benton of Posh Greens were incentivized to vend, and with the support of the San Francisco Office of Cannabis’ Equity Program, they thrived at Grass Lands alongside Equity Sessions who promoted a variety of other San Francisco equity brands.
As the haze of a great and grassy weekend clears, the good fight continues. For so many in Grass Lands and within the greater cannabis community, nothing has come easy in pursuit of the American dream of owning a business—efforts to get a bank loan, lease a storefront, hiring employees, navigate regulations correctly and operate legally are often met with resistance or downright prejudice. Hell, even attempting to give away product to those in pain and rely on cannabis for relief is still not legal. Grass Lands is a reminder of where the movement has been and provides the promise of where it can and will be in the future.
Photos provided by Outside Lands; Kiva Confections; Flow Kana and Syra McCarthy; Corry Cook
More than 400 species of birds have been spotted on the islands.