Cannabis Creative Interview: ROC City Cannabis Carnival

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I sits down with Jackie Bonfiglio, organizer of the ROC City Cannabis Carnival and co-owner of #HYDRO, INC. We discuss creating a “first of it’s kind” event, the future of the NY cannabis market, and how cannabis brings people together.

In immerging markets, people in the legacy industry often get left behind. As the parameters of legalization are defined in New York, the state has a unique opportunity to do things different.

One person doing things differently is Jackie Bonfiglio. Bonfiglio is the founder and organizer of the ROC City Cannabis Carnival, an event that focuses on connecting consumers to existing cannabis businesses.

Bonfiglio herself has been consuming cannabis since high school, along with her husband, the owner of #HYDRO, Inc. They both share a love of the plant, and have deep roots in the Rochester cannabis scene.

Bonfiglio was inspired to create the Carnival after attending cannabis events in Buffalo, and looking for something similar in her hometown of Rochester. When she wasn’t able to find any, she decided to start one. Her husband has been honing his growing craft years, and was well connected with existing vendors. But planning the first event of this kind was still a risk. Advertising was mainly through flyers, and they didn’t even sell tickets. After over 5,000 people attended, Bonfiglio knew they were onto something.

The first event was held in September and the second one was held just a few months later in December. Both were such a resounding success that she’s already planning more. Bonfiglio is hoping to hold three events in 2022 in Rochester, continuing to showcase legacy market operators and helping consumers find more information and products.

What are you most excited about in the industry right now?

JB: Legalization in general. To be able to raise my kids in a world where a joint is just as acceptable as a beer is going to be fantastic. Breaking the stigma.

And seeing all the new ways people are using the product. The only lotion I’ll use now is any THC infused lotion because some I back issues and it worked incredibly. The new products that are coming out and it just being able to help in everyday life.

What’s something you’re seeing that you’re not a fan of?

JB: All this product that looks like it’s for kids. You know, the infused cereal, the candies and I get it. It’s a great idea. It sells, people love it. But I mean, we saw it with the vape industry. People were doing all those crazy flavors in the vape industry.

It just needs to be more child safe, not directing it specifically towards them. It’s gonna be very easy for a child to see a bag that looks like cinnamon toast crunch that’s infused and grab it, not knowing. And that’s on every parent to ensure that it’s not in reach and everything like that. But I think it’s just a little bit too directed towards kids.

How are you pushing for inclusion in the cannabis industry?

JB: We want to make sure that our vendors are from every walk of life. We keep our sponsorship levels low enough for somebody emerging into the market, as well as somebody who wants to go higher up as well too. But we wanna make sure that everybody who is local and participating in this and has been in the industry gets their fair shot. And there’s

It’s not hard to include people if you just try. It’s just about looking at different. We take applications for the carnival now just because we’ve had so much interest. So it’s very easy for us to go through and  make sure that we are including people of social equity in any way we can, whether it’s from their economic background, their racial background, their criminal background – whatever it may be.

We also had Senator Cooney at the winter carnival, which was unbelievable and his major thing was talking about the social or the expungement program. Any way we can try to help the cannabis community is what we’re gonna try and do. And whether it’s social equity and making sure that we have enough vendors and applicants in a range of diversity or helping with the expungement program.

What do you see as the future of the industry in New York?

JB: I think it’ll be a lot more small mom and pop shops. I don’t think it’ll be as commercialized as California. I think we’ll obviously have big money come in. There’s no way to keep it out. But I think that we’ve all done a very good job at getting ahead of the whole movement.

I’m hoping happens for more small mom and pop shops, something almost like liquor stores. Like you have six liquor stores in one town, but they’re all small, they all kind of do their own thing and everyone kind of has their own preference. And I’m hoping that’s what it’ll be this way. We can spread out the wealth to everybody.

What made you decide to have a carnival?

JB: I don’t know, we’re psychotic. (laughs)

We just had our second kid and I was on maternity leave. I was an interior designer on maternity leave and I started to go to the store with my husband and we just kept hearing about all sorts of different events going on in Buffalo. And I just knew I could do it. I knew with his connections and my planning ability that we could put something together big. And we have this friend Zach and he had mentioned something about a carnival. He goes, yeah, you put on the biggest thing and be like this weed carnival. I was like, that’s genius.

We had one location in the beginning and it was only three acres. It was a little bit difficult getting vendors too, because you had to get them to do a sponsorship fee because we had things we had to pay for like electricity and Porter, potties, and land and all this. So they had to trust you with their money and they didn’t know who you were.

Thankfully we had a store to tie us to the industry. I think that’s what really helped was that we were a store so we had a backing and but it was not easy to get vendors. At first we literally had like 25 vendors and then something happened – I have no idea, and we just started getting an influx of a ’em and we eventually started having to turn people away, which was just amazing. But we ended with like, I think 85 vendors at the first carnival.

We never sold tickets either, but we printed out 2000 flyers and just gave them to vendors. But what you need more is people in the door to make sure that your vendors are seen. That’s the most important part. That’s all I’ve ever worried about is, will our vendors be seen? That’s it. That’s all I wanted to make sure because otherwise then you fail.

What are you most proud of?

JB: During the winter carnival, my husband made me stop for 15 minutes. We walked all the way to the end of the balcony at the Main Street Armory, and sat in the corner and I looked at everybody there and everything going on. And it felt so wonderful, to see every one of every age and race and ethnicity and style just come together. I mean, anybody you could imagine was there from 21 to people in their 70s.

People in wheelchairs, people with canes, white, Black, Hispanic, Asian, you name it. It was wonderful to see the diversity of people brought together and have zero issues at both carnivals. We had zero fights, zero problems because we don’t serve alcohol.

What kind of experience do you want people to have at one of your events?  

JB: Happiness. Just pure joy in every way. Joy from vendors they saw and the products they got to try, enjoying similar like-minded people being around, and just being able to experience something like that.

As long as people feel like it was an enjoyable experience at the end of the day, something that they know ever thought they would experience in their lifetime, that’s what I want. And we’ve heard that a couple times.

I never thought I would get to even go to one of these, let alone plan one of these and host. It’s just similar people around you, everyone just getting high and enjoying life. That’s all it is. That’s all it should be about all life should be about.

What’s your favorite way to consume?  

JB: I love it all. If it’s during the day, I love a bong and at night, joints.

I love the juices lately, THC juice has been huge for me. But I’m not a big edible person. It just doesn’t hit me. I don’t know why. I’ve done tons of research because it makes me very upset and for some people your body will break it down differently. And my body just breaks it down too fast that it digests it too fast. So

What is your favorite fun fact about cannabis?  

JB: This gets very female, but cannabis really helped increase my breast milk. It does not get absorbed into the breast milk to then go through obviously to your child, but it does help increase the stimulation.

It doesn’t work for everybody because I have recommended it to many people and there were a couple who said it didn’t increase. But there was a bunch of other women I know who it helped increase it.  This  was something I was super anxious about it too, but I was very open with my doctor and even talked to her about it and they had little research, but they pointed me into the right directions to making my own research and developments and it was nice.

(Author’s note: There is limited science on this topic, and every mother should make the decision best for them.)

Published by Jessica Reilly, Writer

Writer, cannabis aficionado, and poetry lover

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