Residents and council members in Del Mar have for years expressed concerns over what occurs at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, which sits on about 20 percent of the land in the county’s smallest city.
But because the home of the annual San Diego County Fair, thoroughbred races and about 350 other events is a state-owned facility, people in Del Mar can do little more than stage protests, state their opposition in letters or share their opinions at the monthly meetings of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the board that governs the venue.
In recent years the relationship between the nine-member, governor-appointed panel has improved and directors have made a few concessions.
But because the fairgrounds belongs to the state, board members say they must follow the law and serve everyone, not just Del Marians.
Such was the case last year when the general manager signed a contract with Lawrence Bame of Westward Expos for The Goodlife Festival, which was billed as an educational and informational event about medical marijuana and advertised to include “hundreds of the best award-winning local and regional cannabis growers, experts, dispensaries, delivery products, cannabis-derived health products and more.”
People with medical marijuana cards would have been allowed to consume their own products outside in a designated area. Purchasing or consuming cannabis products on display during the event would have been prohibited.
The approximately 50 people from throughout the county who spoke before directors decided the fate of the festival at the May 2017 board meeting were almost evenly split on their opinions.
The board ultimately rescinded the contract, but not in response to opposition from Del Mar. Directors said they could not approve an event that included the possession, use or sale of marijuana because all are illegal under federal law.
But regulations that went into effect in January governing the use of recreational marijuana, which was approved by voters in 2016, have put the fate of marijuana events at the fairgrounds in the hands of Del Mar officials.
According to the Bureau of Cannabis Control, “Cannabis events must be held at a county fair or district agricultural association event.”
Additionally, the law states, “Written approval from the local jurisdiction authorizing on-site cannabis sales and consumption by persons age 21 and older at the event is required for all temporary cannabis events.”
“We don’t want them to allow it,” Mayor Dwight Worden said, adding that the city earlier this year sent a letter to the 22nd DAA stating its position and outlining Del Mar’s zoning laws, which prohibit the use and sale of cannabis and other related products.
Worden said Del Mar would not oppose an event focused on cannabis education as long as it prohibits possession, sale and consumption.
“It’s clearly on record that they must follow our zoning and that doesn’t fit in our zoning,” he said.
After the state released its regulations, 22nd DAA Directors David Watson and Pierre Sleiman formed a subcommittee to create a policy for marijuana festivals.
Watson said they will continue to do so, with a focus on educational events, but probably not until later this year because of other issues, such as calls to end gun shows at the fairgrounds and plans to renovate Surfside Race Place.
“Oh, and the fair starts next week,” he added. “So, it’s not the highest priority right now.”
He and Worden, both attorneys, acknowledge the rules could change in the future and the city may not have the final say on events such as The Goodlife Festival.
“It won’t happen now,” Worden said. “But never say never.”
“There are all kinds of bills that are being introduced that could change things,” Watson said. “Right now, Del Mar has to say it’s allowed and right now it says you can’t have an event that allows the possession, use or sale of the product.”
Assemblyman William Quirk, who represents the 20th District in Northern California, introduced legislation in February that would allow temporary cannabis events to be held at a venue other than a fairground or district agricultural event. However, local approval would still be required.
Bame said he has no comment on the state policy but he’s put The Goodlife Festival on the back burner indefinitely.
“This whole thing has to be sorted out and that will probably take a lot of lawsuits,” he said.