In recent years, “cannabis” and “marijuana” have been hot topics of interest for event professionals. And with the increasing legalization of the psychoactive drug, conversations around cannabis for events are at an all-time high. As the industry comes to terms with this new reality, many event professionals aren’t sure what to do next. ‘Bud’ if one thing is clear, cannabis is here to stay.
From CBD wellness retreats to cannabis at HR conferences, events are experiences that can benefit from intentional design with cannabis in mind. And today, the Brew Crew wonders how long it will be until you can find cannabis at an event near you. In this episode of the Event Brew podcast, Nick, Will, and Deanna make a joint effort to discuss the similarities and differences between cannabis and alcohol, what event professionals should prepare for, and how to make an excellent cannabis introduction at your event.
How Does Cannabis for Events Compare to Alcohol?
Nick believes the national legalization of marijuana is inevitable. Still, because it’s not legal nationwide at the time of recording, he starts today’s conversation with a conditional: if nationwide legalization happens, cannabis will compete with alcohol.
“If [legalization] is the case, then we’re looking at a recreational thing that would compete with alcohol,” says Nick. “Live events have leaned, maybe too heavily, on alcohol for their entire existence. It’s gone from being a potentially huge risk factor to something that, if you don’t have it at your event, it doesn’t feel like an event. Do you feel cannabis is as risky as alcohol in a live event?” he asks.
Will doesn’t think so. “When someone’s getting high, the biggest thing you have to worry about is putting out enough snacks for everybody,” he says. In contrast, he thinks alcohol poses risks of passing out or blacking out. “When you’re high, you lean more toward a positive attitude than, sometimes, when you’re drunk. So for me, the risk drops significantly when it comes to cannabis versus alcohol.”
“Do you feel as though the event’s mission is more, less, or equally as likely to succeed with the introduction of marijuana?” asks Nick.
“It depends,” responds Deanna. “Are we utilizing cannabis for networking, where alcohol is traditionally used? I feel like there’s an opportunity for cannabis that you don’t have with alcohol, and that’s for workshopping environments, creative brainstorms, and things where removing inhibition adds to the experience.” But from a networking standpoint? It depends. “It affects everyone differently. Removing inhibition where it may be a more professional environment is not always a good thing.”
Delivery is also something to consider. “It especially depends on if it’s delivered via edibles, oils, or lighting up,” continues Deanna. “That can affect the balance in everyone’s bloodstream. At the end of the day, it’s a substance.”
“It’s interesting that we don’t have these questions about alcohol, though,” says Nick. But, “Like you said, there isn’t really a symptom of how marijuana makes people feel. There’s a big range. How do you design for something that could either hurt or help your agenda? But then, I think of alcohol, and that’s true of alcohol as well.”
Designing events for unknown or unpredictable factors is a challenge the Brew Crew knows well. “I don’t know if you can say, design your experiences to create a system of parameters that will have a likely effect on something with such a big potential impact,” says Nick. He raises a great point about alcohol and cannabis sales, “We’re not forcing any of this stuff down people’s throats. The person is in control. But coming from a design perspective, does it facilitate the design? When would it be ideal?”
“I think the best place to start would be at a party scenario,” says Will. “A lot of people are letting loose. You’re usually designing around that; you have couches and things that help facilitate a better experience when you’re high. So I think, start with a party, and gather data too.”
Next, Nick wants to know if there are any events where cannabis might help planners achieve a specific objective. “Deanna, do you think there are events or communities where this could help achieve a goal?”
“We haven’t seen enough applications of it, even in their industry, let alone outside of it, to have tons of use cases,” says Deanna. “In 2023, it’s come a long way. There is less stigma attached to it. However, the sub-social norms around alcohol have been applied in multiple contexts. It’s been applied at networking events and when you’re going out with your friends. I don’t think we’ve had enough experience with cannabis to say. We have to see more trial and error, and then we can say, ‘That’s a clear application. How could I tweak that for my use case?’”
Implementing marijuana at an event would be risky even today. So Nick wants to know what the Brew Crew thinks event professionals should prepare for. “There are 50 million things that could go wrong with alcohol, and it seems most events are comfortable with that. Is there something special about marijuana that you feel we would need to be even more diligent about?”
“I think it’s the people who don’t see cannabis as politically correct. The people in favor of protesting it, whether they’re protesting by not attending or lobbying your community, sponsors, executives, or your stakeholders,” explains Deanna.
“I think for the first-time planner incorporating cannabis, it doesn’t matter how liberal or accepting your audience is,” she continues. “There has to be a lock-tight PR strategy, a good persuasion analysis, and a use case. Anytime we try something new, you must educate your attendee on why you’re doing it. You have to ensure they’re on board so that you don’t have Debbie Downers crashing the party. And then you also have to educate them on how to be safe.”
Will agrees. “I think that will be really important moving forward,” he says. “You’re not going to put a bunch of edibles on a table and say, go at it. As much as we hate the term ‘budtender,’ it’s good to have because those people are serving as educational people moving forward. Similar to the high-end mixologist you would hire to create a custom cocktail for your event.”
Now that everyone has discussed the challenges, political and logistical, of cannabis for events, Deanna turns the crew toward a lighter topic. “Let’s say you had a client that was like, ‘Our audience, stakeholders, and executives are on board. Everyone’s on board. We’ll bring cannabis in and give you free rein to plan the experience.’ What would a great intro to cannabis at an event look like to you?”
In Nick’s experience, the people working in dispensaries make his experience unforgettable. “I’m blown away. That person is a certified genius in getting high. It’s amazing. So I would want that kind of experience, someone who is the consultant running the show. Someone who creates a white-glove experience around personalization.”
“My brain immediately goes to the environment you can create once someone is high,” says Will. “Unless I’m dancing, I don’t usually want to stand when I’m high. So having places for people to sit, things like couches and beanbags, can be fantastic. I would also suggest snacks that are healthy but rich in flavor. And then the other piece of that food system is to make it so that the person doesn’t have to keep returning to get more snacks.”
“When you’re high, your inhibitions are lower too,” continues Will. “You become honest and open to deeper conversations. So I would grab a bunch of reflection card games. They’ll have questions like, ‘Tell me about a childhood memory you love.’ Those things can blow people’s minds and build insanely deep connections they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
“And then make the experience fun. If you create an environment where people feel safe, that can be impactful. Music festivals can be a great example of this in many ways. For example, they’ll have rangers walking around checking on everyone, and they’re always super friendly. They talk at a nice volume and pleasant pitch. It makes you feel like you’re in a good place.”
Even though cannabis may not be the taboo subject it once was, it’s clear that the events industry still has work to do before you can safely incorporate it into your event. But as legalization continues to make its way through the states, opportunities will continue to emerge for event professionals to explore how cannabis can compete and coexist with alcohol. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you introduce cannabis to your event communities? And if so, how? We’ll catch you here next time for another episode of the Event Brew podcast.