Orange County Fairgrounds Ban Cannabis Events

The last election not only saw the approval of Proposition 64, it also saw the authorization of several cannabis-friendly laws on the local level. Costa Mesa, for instance, saw the implementation of Measure X, an ordinance allowing for the manufacturing, distribution, and testing of cannabis. Although the cultivation and sale of cannabis was (and is) still prohibited, the fact some commercial cannabis activities are legally allowed in the city is a big deal for the otherwise anti-cannabis town. But under the Medicinal Adult Use Cannabis Regulatory Safety Act (MAUCRSA), legal cannabis events are only to be held at county fairgrounds. And on January 25, the Orange County Fair Board voted 7-0 to ban all cannabis-related events and sales from their premises.

Apartment complexes, Costa Mesa High School, Davis Magnet School, Orange Coast College, Vanguard University and TeWinkle Park are all located within walking distance of the fairgrounds, giving the fair board a reason to be concerned with how such events might affect the area and conflict with the organization's mission.

"Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do something," board member Ashleigh Aitken told the Daily Pilot in an interview. "And I don't feel that this is part … of how we're trying to present ourselves to not just the Costa Mesa community but the larger community."

Fairgrounds throughout California can host cannabis-related events at their discretion, but the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Bureau of Cannabis Control have outlined guidelines all events and event organizers must adhere to. Much like any other cannabis business, cannabis events must abide by the laws prohibiting cannabis use within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare, youth center, or recreational area where minors congregate. Attendees of such events where marijuana products are sold must also be at least 21-years-old. Additionally, no alcohol or tobacco sales are allowed on the premises, either.

Board members pointed out that the fairgrounds also contain venues such as Centennial Farm and the Heroes Hall veterans museum, which regularly host youth educational programs and field trips. According to board member Douglas La Belle, these facilities have events happening year round. Hosting a cannabis event would likely impact already scheduled arrangements.

But cannabis-event businesses—especially those based in California—are struggling to figure out how to stay afloat in the era of new regulation. According to Susan Soares, the CEO of C.A.R.E—a Long Beach-based non-profit event company, prohibiting cannabis at the Orange County fairgrounds is detrimental to her business. In the last three years, Soares held the State of Cannabis in Long Beach: a well organized, professional, multiple-day panel event that hosted cannabis industry experts, giving them a platform to relay their expertise to those curious and wanting to learn about the mysterious realm of cannabis. Dana Rohrabacher and Lori Ajax were a few of the industry’s heavy hitters who spoke at the event.

“There are very few fairgrounds in SoCal where the big industry is,” says Soares, who knew the OC Fairgrounds was going to be an issue because of the schools in the area. “Until the laws permit events to happen at other locations aside from fairgrounds, there are a lot of businesses and people in the industry who have no source of income anymore.”

For the past three years, Soares also hosted the Green Oasis, a private three-day pool bash during the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio. The high-end event hosted many of the artists who performed at the festival, giving them a place to kick up their feet, and enjoy the sunshine, gourmet food, delicious herb and good vibes. Members from the band the Weekend; Haim—the all-girl rockers from LA; and The Head and The Heart were among the performers who attended Soares’ Green Oasis.

Soares is now unable to produce events the way she previously did. And thanks to the OC fairgrounds prohibiting cannabis events, she and many who are in the same boat are stuck navigating the new legal waters of cannabis events, which have proven to be extremely limiting. The closest fairgrounds to Orange County, Long Beach and Los Angeles that could be available to Soares are the Pomona Fairplex, the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino, the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego and the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Of those event spaces, the only one that’s confirmed to host cannabis events is the NOS Events Center—the home to the High Times Cannabis Cup.

Until Costa Mesa decides to open the doors to more commercial marijuana activities than that of Measure X, cannabis events are prohibited in Orange County. As of now, the only way this can change is if the state revises the law to allow canna-events in more places than fairgrounds—similar to the way events were circa 2018. Until then, however, cannabis-gatherings as we’ve known them are a thing of the past. “There are a lot of people working on this issue,” says Soares. “A lot of peoples lives depend on it.”