VICTORVILLE — Last month, city officials derailed a marijuana-themed event, citing its conflict with local law. To effectively kill the prospects of the third year of Chalice Festival, they only had to do nothing.
Zilch is the exact amount of involvement, however, that officials believe should be required of them when it comes to dictating what happens at the state-owned San Bernardino County Fairgrounds.
Fair officials and proponents of Chalice and similar events agree.
But that preference for inaction, from both sides, doesn’t square with a new state regulation that requires local jurisdictions to approve marijuana-themed entertainment at the fairgrounds.
The state Bureau of Cannabis Control regulated this year that the local jurisdiction — the city in this instance — must submit written approval to enable fairground events to conduct on-site cannabis sales and allow consumption by persons 21 and older.
The City Council refused to give the prerequisite permission, heeding legal advice, according to city spokeswoman Sue Jones.
Now they’re entertaining a tweak to their restrictive commercial cannabis ordinance, in effect since Dec. 7, that will explicitly exempt the fairgrounds from their rule-making.
Councilman Jim Kennedy, who proposed the change on the heels of a similar suggestion by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Cox, described it as “carving out the fairgrounds” from city policy in order to leave no doubt of its autonomy.
“Then if they want to have a festival, they’re on their own. They don’t have to ask us for a permit,” Kennedy said. “It’s crazy that bureaucrats in Sacramento wrote into the regulations … that local cities give permits to the local fairgrounds on events that they want to hold.”
He noted how the city, until being forced to this year, had not once exercised authority over the state property. His proposal garnered unanimous support from fellow electeds July 17, but it’s unlikely to accomplish its intended mission.
“We need local approval on the application before we can sign off,” Alex Traverso, spokesman for the Bureau of Cannabis Control, told the Daily Press, “and so the city really can’t recuse itself from the process.”
Instead, the city — and marijuana-themed event supporters — appear relegated to relying on a lawsuit filed by organizers against the bureau, and the city, to return final say-so to the fairgrounds. It seeks to revert control to the state property, as was the case in 2016 and 2017 when unconstrained Chalice events were successfully held.
While city officials have cast the Chalice divorce as a problem borne by the state, and not them, organizers have disagreed.
“The City Council is holding tight to their own personal agenda of not allowing it,” Steve Clayton, an executive producer of the festival, said during one Council meeting last month.
Nevertheless, the quandary underscores the city’s strong desire to assume a passive role in the burgeoning commercial cannabis trade while maintaining active resistance to it.
“I don’t have a problem,” Mayor Gloria Garcia said, “as long as we don’t have a single say on it.”
The sentiment is shared by the majority City Council and it effectively ensures they also do not view an affirmative nod the same as the absence of objection.
Kennedy said officials had been most concerned with not violating the city ordinance. But even if armed with an updated policy that etches out the fairgrounds, seemingly avoiding any conflict, it still appears unlikely the Council will OK a Chalice-similar event in the future.
“I don’t think I would be in agreement to it,” Garcia said, “because I would still see is as a violation of what our ordinance stands for.”
For Garcia, the problem is rooted in the idea that the city assumes liability for such events without any control. In 2016, she wrote a letter to the Fair’s Board of Directors urging executives to punt on the then-inaugural Chalice here.
But she said her view has since changed.
“We were also new in understanding all the regulations at that time,” she said. “We thought we could control something, but now it’s obvious my letter didn’t mean anything and it’s not going to change anything.”
During two meetings last month at City Hall, elected officials withstood two rounds of public broadsides over their unwavering commitment to holding steady. It might be a politically precarious stance; 57 percent of Californians approved of legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016, including 56 percent of voters in the city.
Officials were also faced with reconciling accusations they were turning away from a reported $33.5 million regional impression created by Chalice. But that figure arrived from a customized economic tool, not a certified study, and the city strongly questioned its accuracy while also raising issues about public safety.
Kennedy, who announced he will not seek re-election in November, said the city ultimately may initiate conversations with the bureau about its local jurisdiction regulation, understanding renewed city efforts to distance itself from such decisions may be an uphill battle.
“That might make all this effort sort of pointless,” he said, “but I guess we’ll just have to discuss it and figure it out.”
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