By Sam Wood

On April 20, at least 10,000 marijuana enthusiasts, patients, and cannabis-curious onlookers are expected to gather in a public park in Scranton to celebrate cannabis culture and the state’s medical marijuana program.

Who’s not going to be at Pennsylvania’s largest annual cannabis fest?

The state’s biggest dispensaries, which provide medical marijuana to 100,000 registered patients.

In fact, the festival organizers were excited about the dispensaries committing thousands of dollars in sponsorship. Some of the dispensaries had ponied up more than $8,000 apiece to set up booths to distribute educational materials. So it came as a surprise late last week when the state’s Department of Health, which administers the legal medical marijuana program, prohibited dispensaries and growers from participating.

The festival’s organizer, Jeff Zick, said he stands to lose tens of thousands of dollars. Zick said he was confused by the health department’s motives.

“There is never any weed sales at the festival. We’ve never had a violation of the law," he said. "Not one arrest and not one parking ticket. We’re totally law abiding. There’s no reason for them to take a stance against us.”

The cannabis festival was launched in 2015 by advocates who had fought to legalize marijuana products for treating serious medical conditions. In the city’s Nay Aug Park, the fifth annual free event will have three stages and dozens of jam bands. It will also feature hundreds of vendors of food and retailers selling cannabis culture products — hippie and hipster stuff — from CBD to soap to glass pipes.

Dispensaries saw an opportunity to educate the masses on the benefits of medical marijuana.

There’s one hitch, though: All marketing and promotions by dispensaries must be approved by the state Office of Medical Marijuana. A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the festival had crossed a line.

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