California’s Pot Festivals Go Up in Smoke

Cannabis festival organizers had high hopes that legal marijuana sales and festival licensing would mean a windfall for their industry this year. But those hopes have been quickly dashed by a cumbersome permitting system, local opposition, and ongoing enforcement issues.

While there have been a couple of successful events in Northern California, Southern California hasn’t seen a single state-licensed cannabis festival so far this year. None are planned for the rest of 2018.

Organizers for the High Times 420 Cannabis Cup were denied a temporary cannabis event permit by the San Bernardino City Council at the last minute in April.The festival was allowed to go on as scheduled, but without the bud. It looked like a “ghost town,” attendees said. Later, the city council also denied a marijuana sales permit for the High Life Music Festival.

The Chalice Festival, which was scheduled to take place next week in Victorville, ran into similar problems and has now been postponed for at least four months. A statement on the Chalice Fesival website reads in part:

We must take a stand that cannabis culture and business brings value to cities. We are a huge stimulus in the economy. We bring over 30 million to the areas we throw events. As a culture we should not grace anti-cannabis areas with the positive impact that our events bring.

We have a history of creating and maintaining a safe atmosphere and we will continue to provide this culture with a safe place to be who you are without fear of arrest or discrimination for being a cannabis consumer.. The City of Victorville has put us at risk.

The Chalice Festival’s organizers have filed a lawsuit against the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control. Festival organizers are eager to see how that lawsuit turns out. Ultimately, they’re hoping for fundamental changes in the way festival licensing is structured in California.

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,” [Emerald Cup Festival founder Tim 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.

Whereas medical marijuana festival organizers used to need permission only from the owner of the venue, companies must now get state licenses as well as permission from the venue’s board and city or county leaders where the event is being held.

Those hurdles have proved nearly impossible to overcome. While festival organizers await possible answers in the courts, many of them say they’ll move their events out of California.

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