Can you smoke pot legally at Outside Lands? Maybe this year

Mitch Smith (left) and Taryn Lee ask Mark Wong about edibles in the Grass Lands area at the Outside Lands festival in 2018 when cannabis sales were not allowed. They could be legal this year, though | Amy Osborne / Special to The Chronicle 2018

San Francisco’s Outside Lands is blazing a new trail.

The festival organizers have filed an application with the state’s cannabis office to allow marijuana sales and consumption at Outside Lands, which takes place in Golden Gate Park on Aug. 9-11.

The festival will also seek approval from the city’s cannabis office, which proposed new regulations Wednesday on issuing permits for cannabis events.

If the application is approved, Outside Lands, which had more than 210,000 attendees last year, would become the first festival in San Francisco where attendees can legally light up.

Despite the state’s legalization of recreational use last year, it remains illegal to use cannabis in public. To be sure, it happens, especially in Golden Gate Park, a laissez-faire zone for local law enforcement. In April, a cloud of pot smoke rose over an area known as Hippie Hill, where thousands of people gathered for the informal marijuana holiday called 4/20.

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In San Francisco, an ordinance passed in March gives the city’s Office of Cannabis the authority to allow people to buy and use cannabis at events in places where typically it would be against the law. City officials created a permit system with festivals like Outside Lands and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in mind.

“Now that it’s legal, people usually smoke anyway if they want. It’s an outdoor event,” said Supervisor Vallie Brown, whose district includes parts of Golden Gate Park, though not the grounds where Outside Lands takes place.

If Outside Lands gets a permit, she said, more people arriving from out of town might buy their pot from licensed vendors, not on the street, which helps ensure that what they’re smoking is safe.

“People are going to do what they’re going to do and bring what they’re going to bring, but it certainly would reduce the need for that if they had access to safe product,” said Marisa Rodriguez, the city’s recently appointed director of the cannabis office.

It is also illegal to smoke cannabis in public in Washington, Oregon and Colorado, all of which have loosened marijuana laws, though Denver licenses venues to hold private events with cannabis consumption.

The newly published regulations for the cannabis event program would help the city’s cannabis office decide how to grant permits. The agency will open a period of public comment and could start accepting applications for permits by Aug. 6, just days before Outside Lands.

The regulations stipulate that the areas for consumption must be separate from where cannabis is sold, and the whole area must be obscured from the public by an opaque fence or tent that is at least 8 feet tall, said Rodriguez. The Office of Cannabis also requires the event organizer to hire security services.

“We will be ready to pull the plug on this if we see anyone deviate from the rules,” she said.

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Superfly, an event production company headquartered in New York that helped develop the festival, confirmed that Outside Lands had applied for a permit with the state and plans to do the same with the city, but declined to comment further. Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the state Bureau of Cannabis Control, declined to comment on the festival’s application because it is pending.

Comedy fans at last month’s Clusterfest near Civic Center Plaza could purchase marijuana just outside the festival gates at Moe Greens, a brick-and-mortar dispensary and lounge.

Other festivals in California have been cleared for cannabis by the state’s cannabis office, which also regulates and licenses events. But the state defers to local jurisdictions. Last year, the High Times Cannabis Cup event series had to block marijuana sales at a festival in San Bernardino because it failed to get a permit from the City Council, though the state cannabis office reportedly said it would give its approval.

The state cannabis office allows for event organizers to apply for a “cannabis event organizer license,” which gives them permission to hold events where cannabis is sold. They are not necessarily authorized to do the selling. Only a retailer with a license from the state can sell cannabis goods.

Outside Lands, which this year is sponsored by San Francisco marijuana delivery app Eaze, among others, plans to have licensed sellers at the festival whether or not it’s green-lit for cannabis sales.

For the second year, the organizer will transform a wooded area on the southern edge of Golden Gate Park into a sprawling marijuana exhibit called Grass Lands.

Last year, festivalgoers could not buy; they could only sniff a “smell wall” with various marijuana scents and nosh on edible samples missing the cannabis that’s normally added. Since regulations prohibited sales, companies could only promote their brands and take signups.

“We had to break a lot of hearts,” said Kristi Knoblich, whose edibles company Kiva Confections paid to be a sponsor again this year. Most people who entered the Grass Lands exhibit, she said, did not understand that they couldn’t buy marijuana there.

“It probably left a little to be desired as a retailer,” said Nate Haas, owner of Moe Greens, which participated in Grass Lands last year.

That could change if the festival wins approval. The exhibit will feature wooden sheds filled with eight cannabis companies, mostly licensed vendors whose products are sold on Eaze’s app.

Festivalgoers must be 21 or older and have valid identification to enter the Grass Lands area.

If permits are granted, Kiva will sell gummies, mints and more infused with cannabis at a rustic confectionary at Grass Lands, complete with a chocolate fountain. The retailer plans to offer single doses — about 10 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive ingredient in pot — and bigger doses to share.

Last year, Kiva used the space to promote its products and test new flavors, which include eucalyptus- and pineapple-flavored mints. Knoblich said that being able to sell products will make a difference.

Being able to give away product without cannabis “only gets the consumer 10% of the way there,” she said. “It’s like when you go to test-drive a car. You don’t just look inside, you actually drive the car.”

Melia Russell is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: melia.russell@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @meliarobin