Yes, marijuana is legal in California. But that particular freedom comes with a great deal of regulation.
That’s the message coming through this week, as one of the biggest cannabis festivals and competitions in California quietly backed away from a plan to let attendees consume marijuana even if they don’t have medical clearance.
For months, the website promoting High Times magazine’s upcoming Cannabis Cup said anyone 21 and older only needed an ID to enter the festival’s marijuana consumption area — where vendors offer free dabs, and samples of weed are thrown from the stage – while guests 18, 19 or 20 years old could go to the consumption area if they had a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana. That’s in line with Proposition 64, the marijuana legalization measure approved by Californians on Nov. 8.
High Times promised to celebrate that victory with its biggest festival yet, stretching over three days April 21-23 and including a live grow room, an “edibles village,” infused cooking competitions, carnival rides and concerts by weed-friendly artists such as Nas and Damien Marley.
But over the past few days, the website for the San Bernardino festival changed its message. Now, only adults who have a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana will be allowed in the consumption area — just like before Prop. 64 became law.
High Times declined to comment on the change in policy.
The magazine appears to be the latest in a string of cannabis event organizers who’d hoped to loosen up their policies following legalization only to discover that — in California in particular — the rules can get more complicated in a regulated market.
Unlike many other state legalization measures, Prop. 64 permits “social clubs,” where adults can gather together to consume recreational marijuana. But businesses that wish to host such events need a state license. And the earliest those licenses will be available is Jan. 1, 2018, leaving festivals such as Cannabis Cup in legal limbo for at least this year.
Previous Cannabis Cups here have been open to anyone 18 and older, with all adults welcome to attend the concerts and educational seminars. But they’ve needed a doctor’s recommendation — which has made it possible to consume cannabis in California since 1996 — to get into the “medicating area.”
If attendees showed up without a doctor’s approval, a group known as The Green Doctors out of Venice Beach were waiting near the entryway to solve the problem. After brief consultations with a doctor to discuss insomnia or migraines or some such ailment, and after paying a fee upwards of $80, adults could walk out with their recommendation and head straight into the consumption area.
It looked as though such hoop-jumping wasn’t going to be necessary this year, until High Times changed the policy less than two weeks before the event.
The restriction wasn’t prompted by state authorities, according to Alex Traverso, spokesman for California’s new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.
“The bureau’s enforcement arm is nonexistent right now,” he said, with staff focused on rolling out regulations for the medical and recreational marijuana markets at the moment.
In the meantime, Traverso said county and city policies stand.
“Right now, whatever the local rules are is what’s the law of the land,” he said.
The city of San Bernardino has not been welcoming to marijuana businesses in the past, but it’s developed a reputation as being friendly to marijuana-themed special events.
Unlike rave festivals, some of which are plagued by young people overdosing on hard drugs such as ecstasy, San Bernardino Police have said they see few serious issues at cannabis events. And so the city’s National Orange Show has become the go-to venue for Cannabis Cup and events such as the recently held Kushstock.
The city didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on whether they’d spoken with the High Times team about adjusting entry requirements in the wake of Prop. 64.
But earlier this year, the state’s legalization measure was used to thwart a cannabis festival in the heart of California’s Emerald Triangle. In January, organizers of the Humboldt County Cup (which isn’t affiliated with High Times) were forced to downsize and move their event from the local fairgrounds after police cited rules in Prop. 64 that prohibit public consumption and smoking near school grounds.
Other recent weed celebrations have also felt a chill from the growing threat of a federal crackdown under the Trump Administration.
In March, High Times Cannabis Cup in Las Vegas took a huge hit after organizers got a warning letter from the U.S. Justice Department. Even though Nevada also legalized recreational marijuana on Nov. 8, the Las Vegas event was planned on American Indian tribal lands, which are still under federal jurisdiction. At the last minute, to avoid cancelling the event, High Times announced it wouldn’t allow consumption — essentially turning the event into one big concert.
After weather forced an early finish on the second day of the Vegas festival, some attendees reportedly were compensated with tickets to next week’s San Bernardino event.
So far, there are no signs that this Cannabis Cup will be scaled back, with new music acts and a seminar lineup announced this week.