Cannabis event a learning experience for all

Hullabaloo Organizer Stephen Gieder in the Arcata Ball Park announcer’s booth at the Arcata Ball Park prior to the Hullabaloo. KLH | Union

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – The Aug. 12 Yes We Cann Parade and Hullabaloo involved a good time being had by many, a handful of glitches and only minor infractions.

Arcata’s first officially approved cannabis festival wasn’t a 4/20-like drugfest rife with public safety risks some had been worried about as a worst-case scenario, nor did it fulfill the organizers’ expectations for attendance.

The parade got started about 17 minutes late from the Humboldt State parking lot, as the various cannabis-themed floats had trouble exiting. But once underway, the parade made its way to and around the Plaza, then on to the Arcata Ball Park, without incident.

A post-event staff report by Police Chief Tom Chapman said that some Farmers’ Market vendors were still in place when the parade arrived, causing minor congestion around the Plaza. “Overall, the parade went smoothly,” Chapman said.

At the ballpark, bands played, food vendors vended and attendees frolicked on the large expanse of outfield grass. Two areas were the most popular – the Kids’ Zone and the “Area 215” cannabis products area.

Only those with Prop 215 cards were allowed inside Area 215, and that restriction was mostly well observed. Some children scampered in and out of the 21-and-over enclosure in left field, with security people explaining to Chapman that they were the kids of vendors who didn’t have daycare. “They complied once it was brought to the attention of the organizers,” Chapman said.

Some in City Hall had been concerned about alcohol sales at a cannabis-oriented event. The beer and wine garden – located in and limited to the bleacher area – wasn’t well isolated at first. Said Chapman, “They had inadequate security when the event started so no one was monitoring the two access points to the field. Beer and wine quickly made its way onto the field. It took a bit but eventually was brought under control.”

Another city concern had been noise from the bands affecting other areas of town, possibly reaching as far as the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. There, the annual Peace Lantern Floating, a gentle and solemn event, was taking place in the evening and wouldn’t be well-served by booming tunes of a different emotional tone.

But while the music could be faintly heard on the far banks of Klopp Lake as the lanterns were being deployed, it wasn’t intrusive and was virtually imperceptible among the crowd along the western shore.

A single noise complaint about “extremely loud” music came in from D Street at 8:17 p.m.

The ballpark itself was unscathed, other than minor and temporary discoloration of grass at the stage location. That’s a good portent for future use of the ballpark for concerts and other major public events, widening its use beyond the traditional baseball games.

Chapman’s summary states that a few cigarette smokers had to be asked to stop, and a couple of citations were issued to people just outside the park for smoking cannabis.

“There were A LOT of dogs and one goat allowed into the park,” Chapman said, blaming security for inadequate screening. “According to the organizers it was only service dogs that were allowed inside,” Chapman stated. “I think they confused service with companion animal.”

“Overall,” Chapman said, “the event went off without any major problems or issues.”

Event organizer Stephen Gieder of Humboldt Green concurred. “Mostly it went well,” he said. “The negativity from the council hurt our motion yet the parade was extremely successful and the event pretty much flawless.”

Councilmembers and some citizens had concerns about several matters, ranging from the presence of children at an event celebrating a substance still listed as a Schedule 1 drug (along with heroin and LSD), the nature of the advertising and what kind of crowd it would attract, to the fact that the cannabis event was to take place the same weekend that Humboldt State students and their parents would be arriving for the beginning of fall semester.

One point of contention had been a ban on toking outside the ballpark. The city was concerned that attendees would purchase cannabis inside, then step outside the front gate to smoke. That happened, though not in any large scale.

Gieder still thinks the stipulation was unreasonable.  “They actually ticketed a person outside the park for a joint … while people smoke hard drugs and everything else all day long on the Plaza and surrounding street,” he said. “An officer sat at the corner by the event. While the usual was going on in the Plaza. I thought that was a joke.”

The day’s bigger surprise was the lack of attendance. The bands played to a mostly empty outfield, with just a handful of folks scattered about on the grass.

Food vendors ready for hordes of munchie-crazed attendees saw a smaller-than-expected crowd.

Figures provided to the city by organizers indicate that of 2,000 wristbands acquired for that day, 1,553 went unused. Just 447 were issued, and 95 of those were for vendors, staff, security and the city. That left verified attendance for the day-long event at just 352.

Gieder said the underattendance was due to three factors: short planning, “confusion created around legalities and negativity from [the] council” and the “general nature of community acceptance and understanding of where they sit with legalization and how that impacts livelihoods and our culture in general.”

Other attendance-affecting buzzkills may have been the proscription on smoking and vaping inside the ballpark, which signaled a fundamentally different type of event than the anything-goes 4/20 gatherings in Redwood Park back in the olden days.

The proximity of the Arcata Police Department just over the right field fence probably wasn’t a big attraction.

Nonetheless, Gieder called the Hullabaloo a “major success,” and said it opened the door to more events there.

He praised City Manager Karen Diemer, Chief Chapman and Recreation Supervisor Mike Rice for the cooperation and support. “The city was great to work with on many levels,” Gieder said. “Concept proven.”

More Yes We Cann Parade and Hullabaloo photos:

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