By Rod Nickel and Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Canada’s Calgary Stampede, known as the country’s biggest and booziest annual party, is banning the use of cannabis in the first year that legislators made the drug legal nationwide.
The Stampede, which started on Thursday and runs through July 14, draws tourists from around the world for its rodeo and chuckwagon races, but much of the revelry happens away from official venues at parties hosted by oil and gas companies.
Cannabis consumption will not be allowed in the 230-acre Stampede Park, although alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking are permitted in certain areas, said Stampede spokeswoman Jennifer Booth.
“With (cannabis legalization) legislation being so new, we’re taking the opportunity to learn the impact of having cannabis use at other events,” Booth said, adding that she has received supportive comments about the policy. “If someone is found using cannabis, they’re just going to be asked politely to not use it.”
Canada became the first developed country to legalize recreational cannabis last year. Several provinces cut their cannabis-revenue forecasts because of supply shortages and higher prices compared with the black market.
Calgary’s cannabis bylaw forbids consumption for recreational use in public places, with violations incurring fines of C$100 ($76.30). The law allows public events to provide designated cannabis consumption areas, similar to beer gardens.
The Stampede opted not to license a cannabis area due to the park being a “family gathering place,” Booth said.
To Gordon Hayes, director of events with the Calgary Cannabis Club, the Stampede’s policy is heavy-handed and problematic for people who use cannabis for medical conditions.
“We’re supposed to be the wild, wild West,” Hayes said. “People say they’re trying to protect kids, but in my mind, seeing a guy fall down drunk and puke on himself is a more damaging image than someone consuming cannabis.”
At the Stampede grounds, some applauded the weed ban.
“I think it’s a good thing because of children,” said S. Levan, a mother of one child from Calgary. “People shouldn’t be smoking at all in public.”
Calgary, situated near the Rocky Mountains, is the corporate heart of Canada’s oil industry.
Despite chilly temperatures, crowds lined the parade route downtown, many dressed in cowboy hats, boots, jeans and plaid shirts.
Stampede attendance was down by 30% on Thursday from the first day a year earlier amid rainy weather, organizers said. Last year, the Stampede drew nearly 1.3 million people.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Susan Thomas)