Onsite Sales Bring Cannabis—and Scrutiny—Back to the Cannabis Cup

Vendors offer marijuana for sale at the 2017 High Times Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino. With the coming of California's new state-regulated adult use system, event organizers must now get permits from both the city and state to offer onsite sales. (Richard Vogel/AP)

SACRAMENTO, CA — America’s first cannabis event featuring onsite sales and open adult consumption has been cleared for takeoff.

High Times received approval Wednesday from state regulators and the City of Sacramento for its Cannabis Cup festival and concert this Friday and Saturday at The California Exposition & State Fair.

'This is the first in California. We want to ensure it's going to be a high-quality, very compliant event.'
Joe Devlin, Sacramento’s chief of Cannabis Policy & Enforcement

The event has been planned for months, but permits for onsite cannabis sales and open consumption were only obtained yesterday, 48 hours prior to the event.

Wednesday’s permit approvals mark a moment of progress for cannabis events, coming only two weeks after High Times was denied permission for a similar event on 4/20.

Despite unanimous opposition by the San Bernardino City Council, High Times staged the SoCal Cannabis Cup nonetheless, albeit without cannabis sales. Consumption at the 4/20 event was limited to people authorized to use cannabis medicinally.

“Big ups to the Sacramento City Council for doing the right thing,” said Ngaio Bealum, a Sacramento cannabis activist and comedian who has emceed a number of cannabis events, including some Cannabis Cups. Bealum said the approval “shows that most of the city understands how important the cannabis industry can be to Sacramento and California.”

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Sweetening the Deal Helped

High Times earned the Sacramento City Council’s blessing Tuesday night after the company agreed to charge an additional local tax on all non-cannabis event sales at the event. That revenue will be paid to the city.

High Times also pledged $140,000 to a local social justice group and nonprofits that provide high-tech career training for minority youth in Sacramento neighborhoods affected by the war on drugs.

“High Times has a long history of social justice and community contributions,” said Jason Kinney of California Strategies, the powerful Sacramento lobbying firm that helped High Times negotiate with council members and city and state regulators. “High Times likes to do well but it also like to do good. They want to have a safe, successful and compliant event but they also want this to be a long-term signature event for Sacramento. Building community relationships is part of that.”

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Seen as a Test Case

The Sacramento Cannabis Cup won its permits, but that’s no guarantee that future festivals will receive similar approvals. The Sacramento City Council’s vote authorized High Times’ Central Valley Cannabis Cup as a one-time pilot event. Local and state regulators will attend both days. They plan to closely watch High Times’ efforts to ensure attendees purchase and possess no more cannabis than state law allows. They will also monitor crowd security.

“This is the first in California,” said Joe Devlin, Sacramento’s chief of Cannabis Policy & Enforcement. “We want to ensure it’s going to be a high-quality, very compliant event.”

As Sacramento’s cannabis czar, Devlin signed off on High Times’ event permit Wednesday morning. About an hour later, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, which approves events only after verifying local approval, issued its permit.

“We look forward to issuing more temporary cannabis event licenses in the coming months!” the BCC boasted on Facebook and Twitter.

 

In an email to Leafly, BCC chief Lori Ajax said:

“It’s exciting because it shows with coordination and collaboration between involved stakeholders that the process  works, and that everyone is highly motivated to make the event a success.”

Prior to High Times’ disappointing 4/20 event, Ajax warned state-licensed cannabis vendors they’d risk their licenses if they sold cannabis at non-permitted events.

The BCC is being no less diligent for this permitted event.

“This event is the first state-licensed temporary cannabis event in California history,” Ajax wrote to Leafly, “and while that’s significant, the Bureau will conduct licensing and enforcement compliance as we do with any Bureau-issued license.”

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Keeping Sales Within Limits

California’s track-and-trace system is still months away from its launch date, so regulators are concerned about how High Times will prevent attendees from purchasing and possessing more than 1 ounce of cannabis, the state limit for recreational consumers.

The possession-limits solution? Bag checks at exits.

High Times came up with a creative solution. Festival-goers will wear markable wristbands similar to those used by alcohol event promoters to limit the amount attendees are served. It’s a measure Kinney called unprecedented for cannabis events, and one that might not be ultimately unnecessary at future festivals.

“You don’t go to wine and beer festivals to buy cases of wine and beer,” Kinney said. “You’re there to consume some glasses of wine and beer on site and enjoy the experience. You don’t go to make wholesale bargains.”

The possession-limits solution? Bag checks at exits.

“We’re doing bag checks in and out,” Kinney said.  “So if you attempt to leave with more than one ounce, you will not be able to. We promised the council we would, so we’re going to.”

High Times also promised Sacramento big money. While Sacramento already stands to receive its 4% city tax on cannabis sales by licensed vendors, High Times sweetened the pot and agreed to charge attendees an additional 4% tax on all non-cannabis sales—tickets, food, T-shirts, paraphernalia and booth rentals—and give that money to Sacramento.

“This event will generate roughly $200,000 in additional tax revenue for the City of Sacramento,” Kinney said.

That’s on top of any taxes generated by visitors spending money on hotels and restaurants.

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$140K for Social Justice

As for High Times’ other financial concession, the $140,000 social-justice pledge, the bulk of the money will go to an umbrella organization of African-American activist groups that formed in the wake of the March 18 death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot by Sacramento police.

“Sacramento is kind of ground-zero for this social-justice/criminal-justice conversation,” Kinney said. “We were able to work with community groups to build support when it’s badly needed.”

Some of the money will fund nonprofits that teach computer coding to high school students.

“We need more people of color in S.T.E.M programs and in other technology career pathways,” Kinney said. “Given that young black men and young Latino men have been disproportionately impacted by criminalization policies, it is every important that we do everything in our power to empower members of those communities. It’s not necessarily about transitioning to the cannabis industry.”

More 420-Friendly Fests to Follow

This weekend’s Cannabis Cup event could open the door for more local cannabis-friendly festivals to follow.

Drugged drivers exiting 420-friendly events have been a big concern for public officials.

John Javidan produces BerryFest Strawberry Festival in Roseville, a family-friendly event in a perennial All America city 20 miles northeast of Sacramento. For the past four years, he’s struggled to produce his dream cannabis event, a countrified county-fair-style fete.

“I’ve been turned down quite a few times,” Javidan said, citing law-enforcement’s fears of attendees leaving events and driving under the influence of cannabis.

Indeed, drugged driving concerned some members of the Sacramento City Council, even those who voted for the event. Devlin said the DUI specter alone is no reason to deny cannabis event permits.

“Driving impaired is illegal whether it’s alcohol, cannabis or opioids,” Devlin said. “The lack of a breathalyzer test for cannabis doesn’t prevent somebody from getting a DUI while impaired by cannabis. We also don’t have a  breathalyzer  for opioids. A DUI is a DUI. People shouldn’t do it and if you do you’re going to get pulled over.”

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Look at the Emerald Cup Data

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Chronicle’s GreenState vertical conducted a public-safety review of the annual Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa. Reporters looked into police, fire and emergency data from the two-day event in December that drew 30,000 people. The report card revealed straight zeroes — zero DUIs, zero deaths, zero incidents of violence, zero arrests, zero cause for worry.

'For the last five years we've had no trouble, no incidents, no police call-outs.'
Tim Blake, founder of the Emerald Cup

“That’s what I’m proud of,” Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake told Leafly. “We showed how it can be done. We’re the model. For the last five years we’ve had no trouble, no incidents, no police call-outs. And because of that we literally got an ovation from the fairgrounds’ fire department and police department.”

John Javidan dismissed concerns expressed by some members of the Sacramento City Council that the citizens of Sacramento, a West Coast city with Midwestern values, are not ready to accept open cannabis consumption, especially on a property that, in addition to hosting state and county fairs, hosts hundreds of cultural, crafts and sporting events throughout the year.

“I work with the Moose Lodge, Elks Lodge, Boy Scouts,” Javidan said. “They all know about my cannabis event. Most of them asked me for tickets and were bummed when it got canceled this year—and these are all Rosevillians who would never tell anyone they smoked weed.”

Earlier this year, Javidan said, he was turned down by Cal Expo when the venue’s directors sought a legacy brand like High Times for its first cannabis event. He’s since helped High Times do street-team outreach and billboard promotions for Friday and Saturday’s event, where he expects to see some of the very people who attend his mainstream Berry Festival

“Show up at 12 o’clock Friday when they open and see the type of people that are there—Joe Schmoe regular-type people,” Javidan said. “If you go at the end, you will see what you typically see at a Li’l Wayne concert. Everyone’s gonna be hella chill because that’s what happens when you smoke weed.”

Just don’t expect to smoke cannabis at the actual concert. Cannabis sales and consumption will be contained to a fenced area within the event’s outdoor footprint.

“There are a lot of concerts in California where outright consumption is taking place illegally, probably every concert in California for the last 10 years,” Sacramento pot czar Devlin said. ‘The only difference over every other concert over the last 10 years and this one is gonna be that it’s done legally and responsibly.”

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Chalice Festival Questions

Next up: High Times has a Cannabis Cup scheduled for June in Santa Rosa. Company officials are now preparing for an upcoming permit vote by the Santa Rosa City Council.

Another scheduled cannabis event touting itself as an open-consumption event likely won’t happen that way. The Chalice Festival (which is not sponsored by High Times) announced last month that it would return to the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in Victorville in July. However, the City of Victorville’s municipal code does not allow cannabis events.

A city public information officer said Wednesday that a permit request could not be considered unless the city changes the municipal code. City officials have not been contacted by Chalice Festival organizers. Attempts to reach Chalice founder Doug Dracup for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.