BCW delivers despite roadblocks: “A non-cannabis festival can bring in cannabis sponsors in a major way and use spaces that have banned cannabis events.”
Whether you’re a cannabis consumer, executive, store employee, or simply the curious type, there are plenty of events to fill up your fall calendar with, from the Boston Freedom Rally to Croptoberfest. At the center of so much autumnal stoner action is Boston Cannabis Week, which runs from Sept. 18 through the 24th.
Now in its fifth cycle with a lot of fans and memories to show for it, BCW is returning with hits like its fashion and glass art show while continuing its mission to “provide a platform for the cannabis community that celebrates all the facets of the industry,” but also bringing twists and new additions from last year’s festivities.
Instead of a series of small and medium events leading up to a major weekend concert experience, organizers have expanded the Monday through Friday programming and added attractions like dispensary bus tours and a pickleball tournament in South Boston (the latter of which I’m participating in). Their big festival will come next year.
We asked BCW Co-Founder and Managing Partner Lisa Finelli Fallon about what’s in store and what it’s like to plan another major series of cannabis-focused events at a time when there is so much ambivalence about social consumption in Mass.
TJM: Last year was a triumphant post-COVID comeback. I know you had success virtually during the pandemic, but was there a point where your team didn’t think a comeback was possible?
LFF: There’s been a few times over the past few years where we were unsure of the direction we needed to take. Navigating COVID was incredibly tricky; going into 2022 we had many hurdles pertaining to event licensing and permitting, and coming out of 2022, our team underwent changes in leadership that proved equally as difficult.
Tell us about some of the longer term preparation for something like this that starts right after the last year’s events wrap.
We are on a 15-month planning cycle, so our team actually starts thinking about the following year’s events about three months prior to the start of Boston Cannabis Week. Every year, we attempt to take a few days off following Boston Cannabis Week and we usually end up texting one another about plans for next year. Additionally, we host events outside the week and usually have agency work in the pipeline so our team is right back at it. It’s also become much more difficult to get venues for all the events in more recent years, so that takes some strategic planning.
I know you had some issues last year with at least one venue trying to back out, but generally speaking, can you briefly address the challenges faced by those trying to do events like yours?
We had a very successful run at Underground at Ink Block—Boston Cannabis Week was the first to successfully organize a large-scale music festival in that space. We had a great relationship with National Development who managed the space and they continued to welcome us back each year. Unfortunately, once other event producers started utilizing the space, the Massachusetts State Police became involved because of the complications those events were facing and most of the events were shut down.
We had plans to shift to another festival venue, which we discovered lost its entertainment license as of July 1. That’s how we came to the conclusion to shift the festival to 2024 and build some new programming out during the week. The major hurdle event producers are facing right now are the lack of available spaces. An event producer can only use a public space if the event is free which can mean losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in ticket revenue. There’s also a double standard happening in our market where a non-cannabis festival can bring in cannabis sponsors in a major way and use spaces that have banned cannabis events. Two events can have the same exact sponsors and vendors, but because one event has the word “cannabis” in the name, access is granted to the one that does not. Even in our own state, where cannabis is completely legal, we are far from a “cannabis friendly” market.
Your team has been at the forefront of the social consumption discussions, even having your own roundtables to put together recommendations. How do you manage having events where there will be consumption during this questionable time before there are really laws?
This has been something we’ve been mindful of since Boston Cannabis Week launched in 2019. We always knew social consumption would be a larger conversation down the road, and because we work with so many brand partners with licenses, we needed to be mindful not to put them in jeopardy. We’ve never claimed to be a consumption event and do not market or brand ourselves as one. What we’ve discovered is like anything else, people figure it out.
At almost any concert you attend in Massachusetts, people are consuming cannabis. Some venues take it very seriously and some do not. We always make sure to take the lead from the venue. Also, our festival has thrived without the inclusion of alcohol, that speaks to who we are and what our community is looking for.
What are some big changes we are going to see this year?
The festival will be shifting to its own event in 2024, giving it room to breath and grow. We have some very exciting new programming this year including the BCW Dispensary Tour, BCW Games Pickleball Tournament, and High Tea. We have a renewed focus on our brand partners and telling their stories so more of the events are geared at driving traffic to partner locations. The biggest change has been within our executive leadership which is now responsible for producing all the programming throughout the week. We’ve worked hard to grow and push ourselves to raise the bar.
What are some traditions you are carrying over and that, at this point, are here to stay?
Some of the staple events are growing in 2023, particularly Fashion on Fire and IndustryMix. We’ve been working on perfecting those over the past few years and leadership really has put a lot into the success of those events.
What’s a new event or guest speaker you are particularly excited about?
We’re very excited to be working with both the Mayor’s Office of Opportunity & Inclusion and the Cannabis Control Commision within our education programming this year. To have visibility among these important entities speaks to the work we’re doing and the direction leadership is taking moving forward.
How close or far from the original BCW vision is the series of events that we are going to get in September?
At the core, we’re very much the same people we started as. I would say we’ve learned a lot over the past five years and now have a much clearer direction of where we want to go and how to get there.
The current executive leadership consists mostly of individuals who have been part of BCW since the beginning and have been the reason we’ve grown as much as we have. The original Boston Cannabis Week started with five events over seven days in 2023; [this year] we’ll be producing nine events over seven days. You can’t grow and try new events if you’re keeping things exactly the same. As the managing partner, I’m incredibly proud of this team. We are a true partnership, all the pieces are needed for this to work.
What else do the people need to know?
Boston Cannabis Week is very proudly women owned, women led, and supports veteran initiatives as part of our mission. Very recently we announced that our newly formed executive leadership, which manages day-to-day operations, is under the direction of Meaka Brown, Felicia Pickney, Jamie Banks, Danny Moore, and myself. Each member of our leadership is a powerhouse in their own right. Additionally, we have a team of 20 people that are integral to operations and the overall success of Boston Cannabis Week.
More info and tickets at bostoncannabisweek.com