DEL MAR — A contract to hold what is billed as an educational event about medical marijuana was rescinded May 30 by the panel that governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where the Goodlife Festival was scheduled to be held Sept. 23.
But the 8-0 decision doesn’t mean the event will be postponed or canceled.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors said the organizer, Lawrence Bame of Westward Expos, could work with fairgrounds staff to revise the $12,000 contract so it includes a detailed description of the festival and states that possession or consumption of marijuana for any use will not be allowed on the state-owned facility.
“That’s not a problem,” he said after the meeting when asked if he would include that in his future advertising. “I hope to be in discussions with the fairgrounds.”
But Bame did have concerns with a request to guarantee, perhaps with what he believed to be some type of security bond, that no one would bring marijuana products to the show or consume them during it.
“Do you want to hold me to a different standard than the after-the-races concerts or public events out here?” he asked board members, adding that he “can’t make promises” about things he can’t control.
All smoking is prohibited at the fairgrounds during the San Diego County Fair, but allowed during other events. People smoke marijuana during concerts, especially those held after the horse races and at the KAABOO three-day entertainment festival.
Most of the directors said they don’t oppose educating the public about medical marijuana but can’t support any use or promotion of the products because even though medical and recreational uses are allowed in California, both remain illegal under federal law.
Nearly all had liability concerns and how a decision to allow the festival as it was being advertised could impact their personal and professional lives and responsibilities to the fairgrounds.
“The only government policy that I can follow is adherence to law and we clearly have a federal law that prohibits possession of marijuana,” Director Richard Valdez said.
“The federal law is pretty clear,” said Josh Caplan, the deputy district attorney who acts as counsel to the 22nd DAA. “The federal law is in direct conflict with California state law.
“I can unequivocally tell you that the guidelines or any language which would allow for the possession or consumption of a controlled substance would violate the letter of federal law,” he added. “There’s no immunities from violations of federal law even if it’s consistent with state law.”
Asked what he thought the probability of prosecution from the federal government might be, Caplan said “quite low.”
“What I can’t stand here and tell you is that the probability is zero,” he added before telling board members he is charged with representing the 22nd DAA and not individual directors.
“Medical marijuana laws in California provide no exceptions or immunity from prosecution under federal law,” Caplan said. “Federal law supersedes state law.”
“Basically, whatever we decide here today, we’re on our own,” Director David Watson told his colleagues.
Bame, who has produced home and garden shows at the seaside venue for more than 30 years, has been pitching the cannabis festival idea to the fairgrounds for several years.
In late March the two parties signed a contract, which states Bame will comply with all local, state and federal laws.
According to a press release, The Goodlife Festival is “Where Cannabis, Great Food, Live Music and More Come Together By The Surf and Sand” to make the “good life” even better.
Exhibitions and informative seminars will help attendees, who must be 21 and older, appreciate and learn more about how cannabis, when used in a safe, legal and healthful way, “can enhance a creative, spirited, relaxed (and pain-free!) lifestyle,” the document states.
“It’s a revolutionary new festival for anyone interested in ‘the good life!’ Nowhere else can you learn more about the emerging cannabis scene, (from) the growers and business owners of your favorite cannabis products all in one place.”
It also states there will be an outdoor area “exclusively for the use of” medical cannabis ID card holders “who bring their own and wish to self-medicate.”
It was that marketing that most disturbed board members.
“Mr. Bame made it crystal clear that he’s going to breach the contract so it’s not worth the paper that it’s printed on,” Watson said. “I have no doubt that (marijuana) will be consumed onsite. And approving this contract just means that we’re endorsing the violation of federal law.”
About 50 of the more than 125 people who attended the meeting spoke during the public comment period. They were almost evenly split on their opinions.
One speaker said the marketing materials “assume you can’t have a good life without marijuana.”
Dean Scott said he’s given educational workshops and seminars. “Never in my life have I given an educational festival,” he added.
“There may be a place to learn about this substance,” James Fisher said. “The fairgrounds are not the place.”
“Nothing good comes from marijuana,” said high school freshman Angel Jaramillo, who attended with several classmates. “We’re the next generation to say no to drugs. … What you’re doing is wrong.”
“We don’t need this for our community,” 19-year-old Alex Sotelo said. “This is a bad idea.”
“As a state agency I don’t think you should be in the business of promoting marijuana use,” Del Mar resident Jon Polikcoff said. “I think that sends the wrong message to our young people. … I just ask you to be good neighbors.”
“This is a lawless industry,” Scott Chapman said. “Marijuana is not medicine.”
Many other speakers disagreed, including medical professionals, a three-time cancer survivor and Joshua Boody, who was injured in a training accident as a member of the Army.
“I deal with constant pain every day,” he said, adding that addictive opioid painkillers didn’t help. “It’s coming. Lead, follow or get out of the way.”
“Cannabis doesn’t care if you believe in it,” caregiver Rose LaChance said. “It’s working.”
Heather Manus, a registered nurse, described marijuana as a “really gentle medication,” while attorney Ken Sobel said “cannabis heals.”
Victor Rocha, a retired forensic scientist, said he’s seen the negative effects of opioid and alcohol abuse but none from marijuana. “Cannabis and science can make a better world,” he said.
Monica Delgado, clinical and forensic psychologist, said she is one of the “real experts” who plans to hold a seminar at Goodlife to talk about dosages, options and other elements of medical marijuana.
She said while cannabis does have a “dark side to it,” people must “get over the lies of ‘Reefer Madness.’”
“There is a lot of positive stuff that comes from cannabis medicine,” she said. “This will help the community. … This is not somebody just doing stuff out of the back of their garage. …We need a place to be heard.”
The first presentation of the meeting was by Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, which “supports the commercial production of cannabis as an agricultural crop when done in full compliance with state and local cannabis regulations.”
“We stand firm,” Larson said. “We believe that if cannabis is going to be produced in California, farmers in San Diego can do a great job with it, following the rules.”
He said cultivation will support the local economy, increase tax revenue and “bring production out of the shadows.”
He also said a lack of local production won’t deter use.
“It’ll be produced someplace else in the state,” he said.
Directors asked Larson if the organization supports production if it is not in compliance with federal law.
“We support it in the face of state and local regulations,” he said. “If the federal regulations are anti-cannabis production … then … we are doing that in opposition to federal law.”
“The farm bureau is advocating in favor of federal criminal conduct,” Watson said, adding that all but four jurisdictions in San Diego have banned commercial marijuana activities, including cultivation.
“I’m just concerned that you’re just glossing over the fact that it’s a federal crime and you’re glossing over the fact that it’s illegal in most local jurisdictions right now.”
During the four-and-a-half-hour meeting, directors also opted to defer establishing a 22nd DAA policy on hosting cannabis-related events until the Department of Food and Agriculture comes out with one — something the state agency is currently working on.
It was also noted that according to differing laws, people who smoke medical marijuana can do so in places where people who are smoking recreational marijuana can’t.
Board member approval is rarely sought for the more than 350 events held annually at the fairgrounds, and this one came as a surprise to most.
“I think at a minimum our CEO (Tim Fennell) should be directed not to sign any contracts that could be in possible violations of federal law,” Watson said. “I do not want to be surprised again about contracts being signed.”