Pot law scofflaws abound at Folk Fest

Provincial park prohibition has little effect on consumption


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If you ask Sam Nagler, cannabis legalization hasn’t changed one of Manitoba’s biggest music festivals one bit.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/07/2019 (1296 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you ask Sam Nagler, cannabis legalization hasn’t changed one of Manitoba’s biggest music festivals one bit.

Nagler, 63, has been volunteering at the Winnipeg Folk Festival since 1989 — so he remembers the early days, when you could find a cup full of joints on every table at the festival’s after-parties at Winnipeg’s old International Inn.

But with federal cannabis legalization in October came strict guidelines on where the drug can be smoked or vapourized with an e-cigarette in Manitoba. And in provincial parks — such as the Winnipeg Folk Festival’s home in Birds Hill Provincial Park — using non-medicinal cannabis is strictly forbidden.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Even though cannabis consumption is illegal in provincial parks, at least one longtime Winnipeg Folk Festival participant says cannabis consumption has been taking place at the festival for years and isn’t likely to stop now.

“Cannabis was here long before it was legalized,” said Nagler. “It was very hard to stop it then. I mean, we won’t stop it now.”

Even with recreational cannabis smoking or vaping outlawed in the park, Nagler said he still notices a skunky kind of smell wafting through the air every now and then. Still, he said enforcing the provincial law could be near impossible.

“I smell it. But to actually track it down on the actual person? In this crowd?” Nagler said.

A spokeswoman for the RCMP said as of Saturday afternoon, there haven’t been any incidents of illegal cannabis use at the festival.

“We will continue to enforce the laws and have a presence but we do use discretion based on the situation and circumstances,” the spokeswoman said in an email to the Free Press on Saturday. “Attendees at Folk Fest and other similar festivals need to be aware that there is a fine that can be issued for consuming cannabis in a public place and, depending on the situation, these tickets may be given out.”

“I think before, people were more discreet about it for sure… If anything, now people just don’t care. They just walk in the crowds.” — Jillian Critchley

Smoking or vaping cannabis at an outdoor public place carries a fine of $672, the spokeswoman said.

“Above all, we want everyone to safely enjoy themselves at these events but we also want to remind people to be responsible,” she said.

Jillian Critchley, who has been coming to the festival for the last five years, said she doesn’t think legalization has changed the atmosphere much.

The 20-year-old said she’s actually noticed fewer people smoking cannabis than she did in years past — though she said she’s also noticed a lowered sense of caution among those smoking it.

“I think before, people were more discreet about it for sure. Like people would definitely hide if they were going to go into the festival part to smoke,” she said. “If anything, now people just don’t care. They just walk in the crowds.”

Nagler said it’s not the first time the festival has seen some changes made to what people are allowed to do inside its grounds — and it probably won’t be the last.

“When I started, there was no alcohol allowed on-site whatsoever… That was strictly forbidden,” he said, noting the ever-popular taverns that now populate the festival. “Folk Fest (organizers) then said, ‘Well, why can’t we make some money?’”

Even with some changes every now and then, Nagler said the festival still has the same atmosphere he’s grown to love over the past three decades — and he doesn’t have plans to leave anytime soon.

“Not unless I get struck by lightning,” he said. “It’s wholesome, family fun. It’s a family atmosphere, and that’s what we’re here to promote.”

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