California’s cannabis festivals face uncertain future under new state rules

Some 25,000 people are expected to head to San Bernardino this weekend to watch hip-hop shows, sample marijuana products and celebrate cannabis culture during Tommy Chong’s Blazers Cup.

The festival is one of a couple dozen marijuana-themed events held each year at the city’s National Orange Show center. And California’s cannabis event circuit just keeps getting bigger, with more than 100,000 people a year attending shows such as the Chalice festival in Victorville, Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa and High Times magazine’s Cannabis Cup series.

But the future of many of those events is uncertain thanks to one sentence buried in 276 pages of rules California recently released to regulate the cannabis industry.

The Chalice festival kicked off at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds on Friday, July, 7, 2017 in Victorville. (Sarah Alvarado, The Cannifornian/SCNG)

Unlike regulations initially passed in Colorado and other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the new rules for California’s industry do offer a route for cannabis festivals to continue.

Starting Jan. 1., festival organizers will be eligible for permits that will allow them to host events where marijuana can legally be sold and consumed.

Those permits come with a slew of conditions that will make future marijuana festivals look less like the free-for-all events weed-loving Californians are used to seeing and more like closely regulated craft beer or wine festivals — but with cannabis.

The rules also restrict marijuana events to happening at the 80 county fair or district agricultural association properties scattered throughout California.

But the single rule that may pose the biggest challenge for festival organizers is a sentence that requires an operator to get written permission from the city where their event will be held.

“For each event they do, they have to have local authorization,” said Lori Ajax, chief of the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, which will license events.

It’s unclear how much money a pot festival generates for the surrounding community. No one has tracked that figure.

So, given how many city council members and county officials have spoken out against marijuana festivals — including in hubs such as San Bernardino and Victorville — it’s also unclear where in California cannabis events will be allowed in 2018.

New set of rules

Even before factoring in the challenge of getting local permission, the new rules for cannabis events…

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