California cannabis events could take flight under new bill

california cannabis events set to take flight
A new bill would allow for licensed versions of now-banned events like The Emerald Exchange (above).

By Dan Mitchell

Lost in the jubilation over the start of adult use cannabis sales in California is a sad reality: new rules radically curtail cannabis events and limit them to a few county fairgrounds scattered across the state.

Imagine if there were only about a dozen places to watch a concert with a beer — in a state of 38 million people. That’s the current situation for marijuana, but it may change under a new bill introduced in the California legislature last week that could shatter the event space monopoly, allowing for licensed versions of the diverse medical cannabis parties of years past.

Assembly Bill 2020 authored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) would make it legal to hold events where cannabis can be sold and consumed, as long as local government approves.  That could enable licensed cannabis farmers’ markets in places like Oakland, and tastings in Wine Country.

The public is clamoring for a range of cannabis event experiences, Bureau of Cannabis Control chief Lori Ajax told a San Francisco crowd Feb. 2. “Everyone wants to do infused dinners.”

 Quirk’s bill is eligible for committee action in March. According to state data, AB 2020 “would authorize a local jurisdiction to apply for a temporary event license… [and] would also authorize a state temporary event license to be issued to a licensee for an event to be held at any other venue expressly approved by the local jurisdiction for events, as described.”

Such events “support local economies and small businesses,” Quirk said in a statement. “Despite the fiscal and communal benefits such events bring to a city or local community, current law prohibits local governments from approving applications for cannabis sales at special events if they are held anywhere but county property.”

The City of Oakland is also a co-sponsor of the bill, which is being pushed by that city’s Councilmember-At-Large Rebecca Kaplan. If it’s passed in time, the bill would allow the city to to allow cannabis sales at the annual Art and Soul Festival this summer.  

In a statement, Kaplan said: “This simple, minor change … will give greater opportunities to small businesses and allow cities to secure much needed revenue, while firmly maintaining local control and public safety.”

By and large, cannabis events are relatively safe money-makers for communities. The annual Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa is thought to inject tens of millions of dollars into the Wine Country economy in the otherwise dreary winter off-season.

California cannabis events like the emerald cup could grow under new bill
The Emerald Cup draws more than 20,000 to Wine Country in December each year.

The world’s biggest hash celebration, the Chalice Festival,  held at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in the high desert town of Victorville, has a superb safety record, local police told the media. Thousands of people descend on Chalice each year to sample the highest-potency cannabis extracts on Earth.

According to the local reports, “To date none of the festivals has resulted in increased crime in the area, according to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department officials. It seems the vast majority of attendees have been well behaved and, well, mellow.”

Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, likes the proposed legislation, but thinks it doesn’t go far enough.

“We need to go beyond special events,” Gieringer said. “Social use should be allowed in rented rooms, hotels, restaurants, and places like that,” to at least achieve parity between cannabis and alcohol.

The California Cannabis Business Association, a co-sponsor of the bill, AB2020, is OK with moving more slowly.

“I don’t think we can be too aggressive one month into [legalized] adult use,” said Josh Drayton, that group’s deputy director.

Even just for temporary events, much needs to be worked out, he said.

“People are still getting used to legalization, and the levels of education among people vary a lot by region. Many details still need to be worked out, such as how … we ensure that public safety and health are protected.”

After the bill hits committee in March, “it will continue to evolve,” Drayton said, with county groups and legislators weighing in.

Emerald Cup 2017 By David Downs
Emerald Cup 2017. | Photo by David Downs

“The final bill may be very different from what we’re looking at now,” he added.

Permit fees still need to be worked out. Setting the fees too high might favor big-spending organizations and companies at the expense of smaller players. Gieringer said he’s not particularly worried about that.

“So far,” he said, “the state’s fees have been reasonable” for licensing cannabis business. “I don’t expect this will be any different here.”

AB 2020 also requires a steep two-thirds vote of approval in both the California assembly and senate, because it amends a initiative measure approved by voters.