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Marijuana festivals, and businesses that benefit from them, are hurting now that cannabis is legal in California

Marijuana festival organizers were banking on this to be their biggest year yet, now that recreational cannabis is legal in California and the state is legitimizing such events by licensing them for the first time.

Promoters say they planned to stop operating under the loose protections of the state’s medical marijuana laws, where they’d force attendees to get doctor’s recommendations for cannabisbefore entering the gates. Instead, they hoped to have licenses that would allow anyone 21 and older to buy and smoke cannabis, just like they can buy and drink beer at other festivals.

But with local authorities now able to block such festivals even from the limited venues where they’re permitted by new state rules, there weren’t any state-sanctioned events in Southern California during the first half of the year. And none are on the horizon for the rest of 2018.

The picture is a bit brighter in Northern California. The state licensed marijuana festivals this spring in Sacramento and in Santa Rosa, where the massive Emerald Cup is also expected to go off in December without a hitch.

“It’s costing us a lot of money, but it’s going to come back in the long run,” said Tim Blake, who founded The Emerald Cup festival and competition 15 years ago. “We’re going to really be teaching them how it should be done.”

But with many of California’s largest marijuana festivals – such as the now-postponed Chalice California in Victorville – unable to secure permits to allow consumption and sales, overall attendance and revenue for promoters, vendors and fairground venues is expected to be down significantly in the first year of legalization.

“We are taking a big hit,” said Franco Rodriguez, promoter of the High Life Music Festival, which got turned down for a marijuana sales permit by the city of San Bernardino. “Our own government is not letting the people do what we voted for.”

People who own hotels, restaurants and other businesses near these venues are also expressing concern. They say the boost they’ve seen as tens of thousands of people have flocked to these events in the past has helped them sustain and grow their operations.

A lawsuit over these festival rules is pending, while some organizers say they’re looking to move their events out of California.

Other festival promoters are taking the same approach as the rest of California’s still-massive black market. They’re citing a “crippling” permit system, lingering legal gray areas and delayed enforcement as justification to keep hosting events that make it look as though nothing has changed when it comes to marijuana laws in California – even though, officially, everything has.

Options limited

Festivals that let people buy and smoke marijuana are now legally restricted to fairground venues authorized by the Department of Food and Agriculture.

“There’s no other type of event to be limited to that,” Blake said. “It’s kind of ridiculous.”

Several of the state’s 80 sanctioned fairs are defunct or share facilities. Others – such as Santa Maria Fairpark, home to the Santa Barbara County Fair – can’t host cannabis events under state law because they’re within 600 feet of schools.

Carving out those properties leaves California with around 70 venues that can entertain the notion of permitting cannabis festivals. But the obstacles don’t end there.

Layers of permission required

For 20 years, medical marijuana festivals in California only needed permission from whoever owned or managed the event venue. But as of Jan. 1, companies that want to host festivals where cannabis can be sold and consumed must first get annual licenses from the state. Then, for every event they host, they need permission from the board that oversees the venue, from the city or county where the venue is located and again from the state.

Several fair boards, such as the ones that oversee OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa and Amador County Fairgrounds & Event Center near Sacramento, have opted to ban all cannabis-themed events.

“We just don’t think it is a good fit for us here in Amador County,” said Troy Bowers, chief executive for the Northern California venue.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Brooke Staggs on Orange County Register

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Published: July 05, 2018

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