A new bylaw by the City of Vaughan in Ontario — (No. 074-2019) that bans cannabis consumption in a public place unless it is for medical purposes — has led to the cancellation of Journey Cannabis and Music Festival.
The festival was slated to take place at 990-acre Boyd Park from August 23 to 25 and was to feature a combination of music and cannabis education, with dedicated smoking areas and a BYOWeed policy.
Journey spokesperson Jessica Patriquin told The GrowthOp that the organizers were blindsided by the move. “Festival organizers met and discussed via telephone numerous times with TRCA (Toronto and Region Conservation Authority) officials over the course of nine months to discuss the opportunity of hosting Journey Festival at Boyd Park,” Patriquin said. “Once TRCA leadership signed off on the festival concept and a contract in principle was agreed to, festival organizers along with TRCA Sr Officials traveled to Vaughan City Hall on April 1, 2019, to meet with city officials to discuss logistics of hosting the event.”
Patriquin said the meeting, which she described as “an opportunity for Vaughan city officials to get to know the organizers and identify any potential issues with the festival concept,” was attended by Senior Leadership from York Regional Police, Public Health, Vaughan Property Standards Div, Enforcement Services, and Senior Tobacco Control personnel.
“The meeting concluded with Sr staff from the City of Vaughan advising that they looked forward to working with us given our experience in producing large festivals,” she explained.
The city was receptive and gave the organizers advice about applying for a permit. “We all agreed to work together to ensure the application was submitted successfully months early,” Patriquin said.
The city maintained that the demand for a permit never materialized, and that the bylaw has “been under development since 2018.” “No special event permits were applied for or issued for this event by the City of Vaughan,” Director of Corporate and Strategic Communications Michael Genova said in a statement provided to the GrowthOp on behalf of the City of Vaughan.
Patriquin argued that the city had ample opportunity to inform the festival that an imminent bylaw could interfere with the event, and that Journey sent a press release for the event, “as per instructions from TRCA and City officials,” for comment and review. “We did not hear back from anyone,” she said.
On May 8, Journey sent a press release to the media announcing the festival, but it was not until May 16 that organizers received word that the bylaw would be taking effect.
“On May 16, we received a call from TRCA officials that a political decision at the City of Vaughan was made not to allow Journey Festival to proceed,” said Patriquin. “This decision was clearly made shortly after our press release to the public announcing the festival, and despite us have a signed contract with the TRCA, and all fees paid in full.”
Meanwhile, the City of Vaughan stands by its move. “The timing of the adoption of the by-law was based on the public process and reasonable timelines, following the passage of the legalization of recreational cannabis which took place on Oct. 2018,” Genova said in the statement.
The city also mentions its ban on cannabis sales, implying that other cannabis-related moves should have indicated that the bylaw was imminent.
“It should be noted that following a Special Committee of the Whole meeting on January 21, Council endorsed Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua’s motion to opt-out from allowing licensed retail cannabis stores to operate in Vaughan,” the statement reads.
While Journey intended to have booths selling cannabis accessories, there were to be no cannabis sales at the festival. Although the lineup had yet to be announced, Patriquin admitted that Journey had already invested a significant amount on non-refundable deposits, promotion, park fees, and web design before the cancellation. The park alone cost $500,000.
On why the festival organizers were not informed of the bylaw earlier, or why the city has opted to ban cannabis in its parks, there are no clear answers.
As for the ticketholders, they will be refunded next week. Patriquin added that the organizers are already looking for venues for next year’s festival.
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