WATSONVILLE >> Getting elevated at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds could mean more than a Ferris wheel ride after officials approved up to four cannabis events at the site per year.
The events – which would not coincide with the annual Santa Cruz County Fair itself – could include sale of cannabis and smoking and vaping in permitted outdoor areas.
The temporary event permits were unanimously approved by the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Authorization would function similar to a filming permit, with each event subject to a list of conditions and restrictions – some standardized, and some specific to each proposed event.
Among the conditions, only state-licensed pot retailers and microbusinesses are eligible to sell at the events, with preferential treatment given to businesses licensed within Santa Cruz County. No one younger than age 21 can be allowed to enter, including medical marijuana patients ages 18-20. Sale of tobacco and alcohol is prohibited, as is the possession of any weapon.
Organizers are required to obtain insurance coverage, fencing and have a paramedic present at all times during the event. Each vendor would need to pay the county’s 7 percent cannabis sales tax on top of regular sales tax or risk a ban from future participation.
“We believe that subject to these conditions, temporary events could create an economic benefit to the county, certainly to the fairgrounds and also the local cannabis industry, and we are supportive of providing local authorization for these events,” Robin Bolster-Grant, the county’s Cannabis Licensing Manager, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds manager Dave Kegebein said he expects the first such event to take place this spring.
Cannabis industry representatives celebrated the event authorization, saying it could create a new avenue for small-scale local growers to sell their product.
“This could be a lifesaver for local cultivators if they’re able to go direct to customers, because that is the biggest challenge we are facing right now,” said Pat Malo, executive director of cannabis-industry association Green Trade.
The temporary event authorization came at the request of the fairgrounds’ board of directors months after the fairgrounds hosted an unpermitted cannabis fair called “Dream Sesh” on April 14.
There, thousands of attendees purchased and consumed medicinal marijuana, according to a staff report. But the event was held “without the knowledge or authorization” of the county licensing office, according to the report, which went on to reference lax security procedures at the event and the apparent skirting of required taxes.
After learning of the event, members of the Cannabis Licensing Office met with fairgrounds manager Kegebein to discuss what local authorization and safeguards would be required to hold such an event in the future.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Kegebein declined to discuss specifics about how the unpermitted April event came together, calling it “history.”
“We host 400 annual events at the fairgrounds and we had one event that didn’t go very well,” he said. “I don’t want to focus on events that didn’t go very well, I want to focus on the great events we’re hosting moving forward.”