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HCN file photo

HCN file photo

A scene from the 2013 Fsetival of Friends at the Ancaster Fairgrounds.

Festival of Friends takes hit from pot fines

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

A portion of the Festival of Friends revenue went up in smoke after organizers had to pay about $12,000 in fines for marijuana found and being used during last summer’s event at the Ancaster Fairgrounds.

Loren Lieberman, general manager of the Festival of Friends, revealed at the general issues committee meeting Jan. 24, his audited financial records for the festival are late because organizers had been fighting the fines laid by a liquor inspector.

“I know it sounds a little bit funny,” said Lieberman.

Lieberman said this year the Festival of Friends received one liquor license for the main areas of the fairgrounds where alcohol was consumed, including the beer garden, backstage, and in the ‘green’ room where artists congregate. But to his surprise, after the event was finished, the inspector laid a “multitude” of fines against festival organizers because he found marijuana where alcohol was served. Under provincial guidelines, adopted a few years ago, licensees must prohibit the use or possession of controlled substances under Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substance Act within licensed areas.

“Every year we learn something different,” said Lieberman. “It never occurred to us. It was our mistake.”

He said festival organizers will now seek a different liquor licensing application that doesn’t include the entire park. But he said security won’t be increased for the next Festival of Friends in an effort to crack down people smoking a joint

“The police didn’t have a problem with it,” said Lieberman. “So why should we?”

The Festival of Friends have their own internal security during the event, while the Hamilton Police Service also patrolled on the fairgrounds. The festival also contracted police officers at a cost of about $21,000 to provide security and traffic issues outside the grounds over three days. The cost for the police was cut in half from the $40,000 cost the organization had to pay in 2012.

Lieberman said the festival’s audited financial records should be provided to the city within a month.

The Festival also had to adapt to new rules established by the police to search bags of people entering the free event, said Lieberman. It was the first time the festival had conduct searches, he said. But the searches did confiscate a large amount of contraband, he said.

Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who has praised the festival for relocating to Jerseyville Road location, said searching bags needs to be done.

“We have a duty to provide security checks,” saidFerguson, who was recently elected chair of the Hamilton Police Services Board.

Lieberman, who during past budget presentations has been outspoken in how the city funds the event, appreciated the city’s $85,000 contribution to the organization, which during a fair weather weekend, can attract about 250,000 people. But he remained irked that other organizations, such as Supercrawl, can receive almost unlimited amount of funding for their organizations.

Supercrawl, which does not have to annually appear before council during the budget process as Festival of Friends does, received about $400,000 last year.

“We would like to be at that trough,” said Lieberman.

Lieberman repeatedly praised Supercrawl organizers, and emphasized the city provides money to other arts groups through various funding opportunities. He did appreciate the annual and stable funding the city provides the organization through its boards and agencies process. He pointed out Supercrawl organizer Tim Potocic, is a friend of his, who has supported Festival of Friends.

But as he chafed at appearing before councillors every year during budget time, he suggested that all of Hamilton’s arts groups should be considered as equal value, as long as they remain in the city.

“We do what we are told,” he said.

He said with only a portion of the money other organizations receive, Festival of Friends could follow the Montreal Jazz Festival or Ottawa Jazz Festival model and offer a larger event for the community.

Instead, the festival is accepting $85,000, the same  amount of funding it received last year, while Tourism Hamilton is providing $75,000, also similar to what it provided in 2013, towards the festival’s $1 million budget.

“We are the annual event that fills hotel rooms,” said Lieberman. “Tourism Hamilton doesn’t know about the size and scope of our festival.”

Lieberman pointed out later that the performers, suppliers and staff were all paid, while management usually goes without a salary.

He repeatedly pointed out Festival of Friends, in its 38th year, regularly brings in national and international entertainment, attracting hundreds of thousands of people, and has grown larger since it relocated to Ancaster from Gage Park three years ago.

Lieberman said there are still people who refuse to see Festival of Friends because it is in Ancaster rather than in Gage Park, even though there is a shuttle service, more parking is provided, and the access to the Ancaster Fairgrounds has been upgraded.

“We are a music festival,” he said. “It’s not about a vibe, not about a fruit. It will be four years (from being in Gage Park). Ancaster is not evil. It will continue to grow.”

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