Second Bellingham Budfest grew its audience, but the organizer says it may be the last

Bellingham Budfest exceeded organizers’ expectations with 10,000 to 12,000 attendees, but advertising rules may prevent the event from returning.

By Kiaya Wilson, The Bellingham Herald

The Bellingham Budfest drew thousands more visitors than expected, but it may not be back.

“Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board makes it nearly impossible for cannabis businesses to have public festivals,” organizer Amanda Mac said. “Cannabis businesses need to have good laws for the festival to run.”

The July 16 festival at Zuanich Point Park was the second Budfest.

Seattle-based Mac started the free event in 2019 (before a COVID delay) as an annual, all-ages festival to promote the education and normalization of pot. Budfest featured live music, educational panels, food vendors, local cannabis brands, glass artists and activities for kids including face paintings and yard games.

Mac said organizers expected 8,000 people to attend this year, but 10,000 to 12,000 attended.

“I’m expanding my events to other states and we’ll see if (Budfest) is able to return,” Mac said.

Current Washington state cannabis laws put in place by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board were passed in 2014 and went into affect in 2015. Mac said advertising laws for cannabis businesses are the largest hurdle.

According to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, as of 2017, cannabis licensees are limited to two signs that are permanently affixed to a building or other structure on the licensed premises. This means cannabis businesses cannot advertise outside of their buildings comfortably.

Mac said these laws are preventing Washington state small businesses from being successful.

“We had over a dozen businesses drop out (of Budfest) because of harassment from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board,” Mac said. “We’re trying to get the laws changed (and if we can’t), we have to move to private property which goes against the normalization we’re trying to bring.”

Mac said she’d like to bring Bellingham Budfest back next year because of this year’s large turnout, but if advertising laws aren’t changed, she won’t come back.

“I would like to give a big shout-out to our emcee DJ Big Rez (David Hillaire) from the Lummi Nation and Rick Steves,” Mac said. “It was an honour to have both of them at this event.”

Cannabis brands from all over Washington state came to showcase and teach attendees about the benefits of cannabis, the different kinds of cannabis and their brands.

Western Bud, a recreational cannabis dispensary, has been open for five years but this was its first time at Budfest. Store employees explained products and handed out information.

It was the second year at Budfest for Piece of Mind Cannabis, a 23-year-old recreational and medical cannabis dispensary and glass shop with three other locations across Washington state. Its Bellingham store location has been open for six years with medically certified employees to help medical marijuana users.

“(This year is) more organized and has a different feel to it because it’s the first festival in Bellingham for weed,” employee Melanie Lankhanr said.

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