Arts, Beats & Weed:

posted Aug 30, 2023 to MetroTimes

The Soaring Eagle Arts, Beats & Eats festival is catapulting public cannabis consumption to a new level by offering an exclusive area to buy and smoke marijuana over Labor Day weekend, making it the largest event to do so in Michigan.

The four-day festival, which begins Friday, Sept. 1, usually attracts about 350,000 people to downtown Royal Oak for art, music, and food.

The designated space will feature a lounge area with sofas, music, ambient lighting, LED clouds, fog, glow sticks, ventilation fans, and expert joint-rollers, and as many as 40 products will be for sale, from gummies and vapes to prerolls and flower.

Festival sponsor House of Dank is managing the operation, dubbed “High in the Sky,” and the retailer is going out of its way to ensure attendees have a blast.

“This is our Super Bowl,” Mike DiLaura, chief corporate officer at House of Dank, tells Metro Times. “We spend all year on this. This is not just another event on our calendar. This is the event that we plan our calendar around.”

The enclosed space will be situated in an alley between 6th and 7th streets and Washington, with an age-verification entrance and robust security.

The cannabis space, which has a capacity of 362 people, is intended for everyone from seasoned enthusiasts to curious newcomers.

With no comparable event of this size in Michigan, organizers are in uncharted territory and have the opportunity to pave the way for other future events to feature cannabis zones.

“To be truthful, we don’t know what to expect,” DiLaura says. “No one has ever done this before.”

Since recreational marijuana was legalized by voters in November 2018, the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency has issued 31 licenses for temporary marijuana events. All of them were for much smaller events, and a vast majority were for marijuana-related festivities.

Saying the cannabis space is “absolutely trend-setting,”Arts, Beats & Eats producer Jon Witz is keenly aware that this event could have future implications for the cannabis industry.

“This is a mantle that will set the tone for other events and communities,” Witz says. “We are being watched by other cities and departments and producers of events and venues, and there is a responsibility to do it right, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

DiLaura says he envisions a future in which consumption areas are available at concerts, sporting events, and other large festivals, much like alcohol is.

“We’re seeing the walls come down with the stuff you can do,” DiLaura says. “When I signed on [with Arts, Beats & Eats] in 2021, people were shocked we were even allowed to sponsor, and now we have media coverage, and we are selling at the event. As cannabis enters the mainstream more and more, you are going to start seeing this at more events and concerts. I think this is a precursor to that.”

DiLaura says he can even envision a consumption zone at Comerica Park in a few years, where Detroit Tigers fans could watch a ballgame while toking.

Getting this far wasn’t easy.

Since 2021, House of Dank was a major sponsor of Arts, Beats & Eats, but the company was prevented from selling cannabis and providing an area to smoke it. Instead, House of Dank offered music from DJs, CBD products, T-shirts, and promotional materials.

But the fun part – actually consuming it – was forbidden.

In 2022, the company asked the Royal Oak City Commission to sign off on a designated cannabis zone to allow for sales and consumption. By a 4-to-3 vote, the commission rejected it after the new police chief, Michael Moore, opposed the plan.

Over the next year, the company forged a relationship with Moore and council members, assuring them that the cannabis zone would be safe, secure, and away from family entertainment. On Valentine’s Day, the commission voted unanimously to allow for cannabis sales and a consumption area for a one-year trial period. Moore told the commission he would not oppose or endorse the plan.

“This first year is just a test,” Witz says. “We are taking a look at it. We’re not making it really big. We’re being really careful about how we’re doing it.”

The cannabis zone is located away from family attractions, food, and most vendors, and a filtration system will keep smoke from blanketing the area. Most attendees probably won’t notice it unless they’re looking, organizers say.

Event organizers emphasized that art, food, and music will continue to be the focal point of the festival, and the cannabis zone is not meant to overshadow that.

“We are not going to try to transform what the festival is by turning it into a cannabis celebration because it is not what we’re doing in any way, shape, or form,” Witz says.

The legalization of cannabis could not have arrived sooner for Arts, Beats & Eats, which has lost major sponsors, especially from the auto industry.

“That level of support has gone down,” Witz says. “We’ve lost critical dollars. When cannabis became legal in Michigan, we were approached by House of Dank. It was very exciting, and they brought in the type of revenue as a sponsor that really helped us since we didn’t have a six-figure automotive sponsor. House of Dank became a major partner of ours.”

With a positive experience with House of Dank, Witz says it was “natural to take the partnership to another level, which is to allow the products they sell to be purchased.”

House of Dank already extended its sponsorship contract with Arts, Beats & Eats another three years.

Until the event starts, no one knows for sure what to expect.

“We’re hoping to see a few thousand people a day, and I think that’s conservative,” DiLaura says. “But we just flat don’t know yet.”

Arts, Beats & Eats launched in Pontiac in 1998 and moved to Royal Oak in 2010.

This year, more than 200 music acts and family entertainers will perform on nine stages. The event will be headlined by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Halestorm, Russell Dickerson, and Bell Biv DeVoe.

Dozens of restaurants, food vendors, and artists will also be on hand.

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