Marijuana use might be legal under state law, but don’t expect to light up at a big medical cannabis festival previously announced for the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
On Tuesday, the board that manages the state-owned venue rescinded a contract with organizers of the planned Goodlife Festival, saying the event — billed as the county’s largest-ever medical marijuana expo — doesn’t comply with federal law.
Along with a designated smoking area for medical marijuana card holders, the Sept. 23 festival was set to offer live music by well-known local bands, gourmet cooking demonstrations — including how to cook with cannabis — and seminars on the health benefits of cannabis.
Board members said despite the healthcare emphasis, the overall vibe seemed to celebrate pot culture.
“It may be (limited) to medical marijuana, but it has quite a bit of recreational feel to it,” said Russ Penniman, the president of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the state agency that operates the fairgrounds.
Still, the board left open the possibility that the promoter can rework the contract and apply again — as long as the organizer nixes any plan to allow smoking on site. Any consumption of THC products at the festival would violate federal law, board members said, and they emphasized that federal law trumps recent marijuana laws approved by state voters.
“I don’t get a good warm feeling that you are going to comply with federal law,” board member Stephen Shewmaker said before the panel voted unanimously to rescind the contract.
Promoter Lawrence Bame of Westward Expos said he would tweak his plan and return to the board.
“I would be happy to try to work this out,” Bame said. He said he would present the board with a revised contract “at the first opportunity.”
Smoking of any kind is already prohibited throughout the fairgrounds during the annual San Diego County Fair, but is allowed in designated areas during events such as the annual horse races.
Earlier this year, fairgrounds staff approved the Goodlife Festival without a public discussion, as they do most other routine events at the public venue. Westward Expos has produced home and garden shows at the fairgrounds for 30 years.
Once word got out about the event, however, a small uproar began and the fairgrounds board scheduled Tuesday’s special meeting to address the issue. A standing-room only crowd gathered and seemed somewhat evenly split between supporters of the festival plan and opponents, who included local residents and nonprofit groups focused on drug prevention.
“This festival is normalizing the use of marijuana and sending the wrong message to the public,’” said Encinitas resident Nancy Logan in a letter asking the board to reconsider its decision and break the event’s contract.
Solana Beach resident Peggy Walker called the event “a slap in the face” of Del Mar and Solana Beach residents, where both cities have banned pot dispensaries and commercial cultivation.
Representatives of the Coastal Communities Drug Free Coalition and the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth also opposed the festival.
Other speakers said medicinal marijuana has brought relief to people who suffer from chronic pain and other debilitating conditions, and that promoting its use could help improve the health of many people in the region.
“I’ve seen the ravages of opioid, tobacco and alcohol, but not cannabis,” said Victor Rocha, a retired forensic scientist. “Cannabis and science can make a better world.”
The fair board had asked the San Diego County Farm Bureau to present its position on marijuana cultivation. Eric Larson, the group’s executive director, said marijuana is a potential money crop to replace less profitable crops such as avocados and strawberries being pushed out by high water and labor costs.
“Cannabis is now recognized as an agriculture crop in California,” he said. “It will be highly regulated… It will bring production out of the shadows.”
The California Department of Food & Agriculture warned the district back in December that the state’s new cannabis laws were likely to lead to requests for cannabis and hemp related events.
Contracts for such events should include “specific language addressing how the promoter will comply with state and local cannabis laws, including but not limited to age requirements for event entry, on-site cannabis smoking and consumption restrictions, cannabis retail sale and free sample prohibitions, adequate security provided by the event, and support from local law enforcement,” states a Dec. 19 letter from John Quiroz, chief of the Food & Ag Department’s Fairs & Expositions Branch.
The Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Northern California for several years has hosted the Emerald Cup, a medical marijuana event that includes an industry trade show that includes music and allows participants to smoke medical marijuana.
“The only real challenge we have experienced is with the event patrons parking in the local neighborhoods,” said Rebecca Bartling, chief executive officer of the Event Center at the fairgrounds, in a May 8 letter to the Del Mar Fairgrounds chief executive officer. This year Sonoma County fairgrounds officials are working with the event promoter to provide an offsite parking shuttle.
“A side benefit, but not insignificant, is the economic benefit the Emerald Cup has made to our community,” Bartling wrote. “During the three day run the hotels in Santa Rosa are booked and restaurants are very busy.”
Under the original plan, tickets to the Goodlife festival in Del Mar would be $35 each, according to a report presented to the fair board. About 4,000 people were expected to attend, with hours from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Attendees must be at least 21 years old.
“The Goodlife Expo will celebrate a lifestyle of the finer things — good food, good fun, good wine and legal epicurean mood enhancers for a sophisticated quality of life,” states the event’s description.
© 2017 San Diego Union Tribune (San Diego, Calif.) Visit The Union Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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