Events

Will family-friendly county fairs become cannabis friendly?

Chef Keiko Beatie knows most OC Fair fans come looking to indulge in wacky treats like fried peanut butter meatballs, not to get tips on healthy eating.

But the theme of this year’s fair is “farm to table.” And Beatie is hoping to advance that theme with her course Friday, July 21, on cooking vegetarian food infused with an unusual farm-grown ingredient: hemp.

“I wanted to be able to support more of a mainstreamed understanding of how nutritious hemp is,” said Beatie, who touts the protein, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients found in the plant. “I just would hope that people would feel more open to learning about it.”

Hemp can’t make anyone high. It is a type of cannabis plant, though, with trace amounts of mind-altering THC and generous amounts of CBD, the compound in cannabis thought to have the most medical benefits.

Chef Keiko Beatie is teaching a class on cooking with hemp at the OC Fair on Friday, July 20. (Photo courtesy of FaerieJane.com)

Beatie – a cannabis activist who sits on leadership teams for pro-marijuana groups OC NORML and Women Grow OC – has offered a course on cooking with hemp before at both the OC and San Diego fairs. This year, she’s blending hemp CBD oil into her strawberry vinaigrette and chocolate pudding for the first time.

This is also the first year that Californians can legally grow hemp – and marijuana – at home thanks to the November passage of Proposition 64. And all types of cannabis soon could be incorporated into the state’s 78 annual county fairs.

Starting Jan. 2, fairground operators will — at least theoretically — be able to request state permits allowing visitors 21 and older to buy and consume weed at both fairs and during other private events at the venues, thanks to legislation signed into law in June.

The potential catch is that local cities and counties may be given the authority to veto such events – no small hurdle, since most cities ban all types of marijuana businesses.

On the one hand, given the historic mission of California’s county fairs to “advance public knowledge of agriculture,” incorporating cannabis doesn’t seem too big of a stretch. It’s an increasingly popular crop that’s spawned breeding competitions across the country. And Geoff Hinds, CEO of the San Bernardino County Fair in Victorville, notes county fairs have a long tradition of evolving to mirror their local communities.

Fairs in California no longer have tobacco competitions, he pointed out. But fairs do have beer gardens, home brew contests, wine-making competitions and other activities strictly for adults.

“At the same time,” Hinds said, “the fair is a family-friendly event. We’re geared toward that market and always will be.”

Hinds said the San Bernardino County Fair board will have to look at the pros and cons on both sides to make a decision for future events.

Kevin Sabet, co-founder of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said it’s not surprising the cannabis industry would want to promote their products at county fairs. But he called it “a horrible idea.”

“The marijuana industry won’t make rich profits without recruiting future heavy users of their product,” Sabet said. “We should be thinking about reducing their footprint where young people are, not increasing it.”

In this 2016 file photo, judges rate marijuana plants at the Oregon Cannabis Grower’s Fair marijuana plant competition in Salem, Ore. Nine winners were later on display at the Oregon State Fair. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File)

The Oregon State Fair incorporated cannabis for the first time in 2016. The fair didn’t sanction a cultivation competition, but it displayed nine plants that had won an independent growers contest in a greenhouse with extra security and a 21-plus age limit. That display is expected to be back at this year’s fair, which opens Aug. 25.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, which oversees county fairs on state-owned property, is developing policies related to cannabis, according to department spokesman Steve Lyle. He declined to offer further details.

The state’s new Bureau of Cannabis Regulation will issue permits for special events featuring cannabis. Bureau spokesman Alex Traverso said they’re still determining exactly how those permits will work, including whether local cities will have a say over cannabis-related events on state-owned fairgrounds.

The Orange County Fair board is waiting for those guidelines to be released before beginning detailed discussions about if or how cannabis could be incorporated into future fairs, spokeswoman Terry Moore said.

Officials with county fairs that aren’t regulated by the state — such as the Los Angeles County Fair and Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival — are looking to local leaders for guidance.

The Riverside fair, which is held Indio each February, will be the first to take place after the new cannabis-friendly fair law takes effect Jan. 2. But fair manager Veronica Casper said solicitations for entries for next year’s agricultural competitions are already being issued, and cannabis won’t be included.

The L.A. fair would need approval from both the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the city of Pomona to move forward with any marijuana-related events. Given the strict stance those two jurisdictions have taken on cannabis, fair CEO Miguel Santana said, “It’s not very likely to be part of the county fair experience anytime soon.”

The Chalice festival was held earlier this month at the San Bernardino County fairgrounds in Victorville. (Sarah Alvarado/The Cannifornian)

Three of the most cannabis-friendly event centers in California are fairgrounds.

The Sonoma County fairgrounds in Santa Rosa host the Emerald Cup and High Times NorCal Cannabis Cup festivals, which each attract thousands of enthusiasts looking to check out the cannabis competitions, music acts, vendors and more. Then there’s the San Bernardino County fairgrounds, which drew 30,000 people to the recent Chalice festival celebrating cannabis concentrates. And there’s the National Orange Show in San Bernardino, which now gets half its business from cannabis events.

It’s not yet clear what power local officials may have over the future activities of the fairs.

In the meantime, Moore said the cooking-with-hemp course has never raised any flags either with OC Fair officials or fairgoers.

Beatie is teaching her first class at 3 p.m. Friday in the OC Promenade building. And she’ll do it again at 3 p.m. on Aug. 5.

The Fullerton native pointed out that hemp seeds are for sale at Trader Joe’s and organic hemp oil is on the shelves at Whole Foods.

“This is just a simple plant with amazing nutritional capabilities,” Beatie said.


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