The fate of the massive Chalice California festival is uncertain after Victorville city officials have so far refused to sign off on letting attendees buy and smoke marijuana at the event, illustrating questions about the future mix of publicly-owned venues and cannabis events.
The three-day Chalice festival, scheduled July 13 through 15, is expected to draw some 45,000 people to Victorville’s San Bernardino County Fairgrounds. Music headliners include Bassnectar, Ludacris and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Organizers are selling tickets while touting that, under California’s new marijuana laws, anyone 21 and older can buy and consume weed without a doctor’s recommendation.
But so far — repeating a stand-off that took place in April between organizers of High Times magazine’s Cannabis Cup festival and the San Bernardino City Council — Victorville officials have refused multiple requests for written permission to let Chalice take place. That means Chalice organizers also can’t get what would be the first state permit for a cannabis event in Southern California.
“The locals denied them, therefore the Bureau cannot license them,” said Alex Traverso, spokesman for the Bureau of Cannabis Control, referencing the state’s policy of refusing to issue permits for cannabis-related events or businesses that have been rejected by local authorities.
Fairground staff hasn’t given up. They told Victorville council members that last year’s event brought $34 million to the high desert economy with zero public safety incidents. But the clock is ticking on this year’s festival, and organizers didn’t respond to multiple requests to discuss what will happen if the city doesn’t change its mind over the next four weeks.
And so the question remains: Will any Southern California city open the door for legal cannabis events?
New rules, new obstacle
Cannabis festivals thrived in Southern California when recreational cannabis was prohibited. But that’s changed this year, as the law that allows the recreational use of cannabis for California adults has brought with it a slew of new rules for organizers of weed-themed festivals.
One of those new rules is that temporary cannabis events – which are now only legal at county fairgrounds and agricultural districts – must get written permission from city leaders if they want to allow consumption and sales.
Previously, cannabis-oriented events were regulated by venue owners. That meant Victorville’s High Desert Event Center, at the state-owned San Bernardino County Fairgrounds, was able to play host to a number of cannabis-themed festivals each year despite opposition from the local city council.
Chalice founder Doug Dracup was undaunted when the new regulations came out in November, insisting, “Chalice festival will take place in Victorville in 2018.”
The festival, which highlights cannabis concentrates, first landed in Victorville in July 2016. The City Council wrote a letter asking the fair board to cancel the event, citing safety concerns.
The board of directors for the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds had many of these same concerns prior to hosting the first event in 2016, CEO Geoff Hinds wrote in a recent letter to Victorville Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Cox.
But the board visited similar events and created strong guidelines to minimize any negative impacts, Hinds wrote. Since then, he said, the board has come away with a totally different impression of marijuana festivals.
“Today, we have a unanimous consensus among our board members that Chalice California, and similar events, while they may possibly run counter to our individual personal moral compass, are safe, well run, professionally produced events that provide a substantial impact to both the Fairgrounds, and our local economy,” Hinds wrote.
He presented city officials with a report detailing some ways in which the local economy was helped by the festival, including full hotels within a 50-mile radius at rates that were 40 percent higher than normal.
Hinds and 19 others attended Victorville’s June 5 city council meeting and spoke in favor of the festival. They asked the council to put the discussion on a future city agenda, but didn’t get enough votes to make that happen.
All commercial cannabis activity, other than limited medical marijuana deliveries, are banned in Victorville, city spokeswoman Sue Jones said, who added that temporary cannabis events are “strictly prohibited.”
Other events also left scrambling
High Times magazine encountered similar local resistance earlier this year.
Less than 48 hours before High Times SoCal Cannabis Cup kicked off April 20 at San Bernardino’s National Orange Show Events Center, news broke that city leaders refused to OK cannabis consumption and sales.
The event still went on. And, despite organizers telling people they’d need to bring their own cannabis, many attendees said the festival operated much as it had in previous years. But given the last-minute controversy, hundreds of vendors pulled out and thousands of people didn’t show up.
Two events so far have landed local permission and state permits to allow cannabis sales and consumption.
The first cannabis event license in the state went to High Times Cannabis Cup Central Valley, held the first weekend in May at the Cal Expo fairgrounds in Sacramento. And High Times also got approval for its NorCal Cannabis Cup festival over the first weekend in June at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.
Neither event got local permission 60 days in advance, as state law officially requires. The Bureau of Cannabis Control bent the rules, though, giving organizers who are trying to comply with the complex new laws approval just days before the events started. It’s expected they’d do the same for Chalice if local consent comes through before the event starts July 13.
But so far, no licenses have been issued for events in Southern California.
Venue options slim
Under new state rules, marijuana events can only happen at the 80 county fair or district agricultural association properties scattered throughout California.
There are just two qualified venues in San Bernardino County, in Victorville and San Bernardino — both of which are so far blocked from hosting events by city authorities.
Riverside County’s planning commission on June 20 is set to consider an ordinance that would potentially allow for cannabis festivals at Lake Perris fairgrounds. But venues in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties so far haven’t been welcoming to weed-themed events.
Assembly Bill 2020, proposed by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, would give organizers more options by letting the state authorize temporary cannabis events at any venue that’s already been granted local approval. The bill has passed two committee hearings and must pass at least one more before getting a hearing in the Assembly.
Until then, Hinds said his team plans to keep educating local officials about the benefits they see cannabis events bringing to the community.
“Regardless of the outcome of Chalice, we plan to continue to have the conversation and not give up until we are able to prove the information.”