Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Plenty of Canni, No Fest

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It's official. Humboldt County — long considered the heart of California's marijuana country — will not have a cannabis festival in the foreseeable future.

The Ferndale Enterprise reported this week that organizers' final push to put on Cannifest — a locally produced "cannabis festival and trade gathering" — has met an immovable object in the form of Ferndale Police Chief Bret Smith.

According to the report, Smith is of the firm belief that current law prohibits cannabis events from being held at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, one of just two locations in the county where they would ostensibly be permitted under current state regulations. The problem, according to Smith, is that state law restricts smoking cannabis in public spaces or where tobacco use is prohibited, and within 1,000 feet of a school. The fairgrounds are public property and the fair's lease agreement with the county specifies they be maintained as a "no-smoking" facility. Plus, Smith notes, they fall within 1,000 feet of Ferndale High School and within the city limits of Ferndale, which has prohibited cannabis sales.

While California's cannabis regulations issued late last year do allow for a licensed operator to put on a cannabis festival, they limit the location to the 80 county fair or district agricultural association properties in the state. In Humboldt County, that means the fairgrounds in Ferndale or Redwood Acres in Eureka. While Redwood Acres has held such events in the past, its board has decided cannabis events are no longer a good fit becaues of an increased presence of children and youth on the property due to a variety of businesses and programs operated there.

"It's unfortunate," Cannifest organizer Stephen Gieder told the Enterprise about Smith's decision. "I understand the rights of the cities and the counties — everyone has their rights to do things the way they want to do it — but Ferndale and the county fairgrounds are the agricultural center for expositions and education and the city is unwilling to allow us to educate about the largest ag crop in the county."

A bill by North Coast Assemblymember Jim Wood, A.B. 2461, aims to allow such festivals by issuing temporary event licenses for festivals that could be held at any venue that receives local approval. The bill passed the Assembly late last month on a 54-15 vote and is now being taken up in the Senate.

For his part, Gieder told the Enterprise he doesn't see cannabis festivals in Ferndale being a reality until the federal government reverses its long-standing prohibition.

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In related news, after decades of dead-on-arrival bills being introduced in Congress, federal lawmakers have introduced a bill that seems to have some momentum behind it.

A bipartisan bill known as the STATES Act introduced June 7 by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and backed by a bipartisan group of 12 governors and some banks, would allow states to pass their own marijuana laws without federal interference by amending the Controlled Substances Act so its provisions no longer apply to those in compliance with state marijuana laws.

In contrast to the Marijuana Justice Act introduced by Sen. Corey Booker last year ("A Snowball's Chance in D.C.," Aug. 3, 2017), this bill would not be implemented retroactively, meaning it would not expunge the records of scores of people convicted in past federal cases. But the limits on its scope are part of the reason why pundits believe it has a real shot at passing. Another reason is that the legislation is being billed as a strengthening of the 10th Amendment, which some believe might make it an easier vote for Republicans in staunchly red districts.

Sor far the bill has gotten nods of approval from those in the cannabis industry, with California Growers Association Executive Director Hezekiah Allen telling the San Francisco Chronicle it's a "really elegant solution" and Dale Gieringer, the executive director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, calling it the "most realistic" path toward ending federal prohibition.

The bill got an extra boost the day after it was introduced when President Donald Trump told reporters, "We're looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes" ("Trump 'Probably Will Support State Choice on Cannabis," posted online June 8).

Of course, as Dreamers and LGBTQ communities can attest, the president's statements of support — much like the cannabis industry itself — aren't exactly bankable.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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