Del Mar currently bans all commercial pot uses, from cultivation to delivery.
  • Del Mar currently bans all commercial pot uses, from cultivation to delivery.
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On January 1, when recreational pot became legal in California, so did its sale and consumption at county fairgrounds, where businesses can host events such as festivals. But first come the permits, and that's not all up to the state. City councils must give permission before a weed event can be held at one of California's 80 county fair or district agricultural association properties.

Last year, Del Mar quashed the first medical marijuana festival at the state-owned fairgrounds. On January 25, city officials in Tulare suddenly halted the state's first licensed fairground event for recreational pot, set for January 27. But with pot being called the new craft beer and businesses seeking to showcase products, the proposals are likely to keep coming.

On January 16, the Del Mar City Council reviewed their ordinance to decide if changes should be made under the new state law. As deputy mayor Dave Druker sees it, the voters have spoken.

"It's time for us to get with the 21st Century," he said. "We should be allowing for the recreational use of marijuana. I would allow us to have at least one commercial outlet for recreational and one for medical marijuana."

After the festival skirmish, which angered anti-drug activists and worried the fair board due to pot's illegal status under federal law, the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the fairgrounds, turned to the state for direction. In October, the Department of Food and Agriculture issued guidelines for cannabis events at fairgrounds.

Del Mar Fairgrounds’ pot policy, now in the works, draws on that guidance, which stresses community values; locations relative to minors, such as parks and beaches; and input from law enforcement. An open public meeting will be held prior to any state contract to hold a cannabis event.

According to the state's guidelines, since local ordinances reflect the community's view of pot, a fair board should "consider whether a cannabis event is consistent with that local view. Therefore, even if county/and or city cannabis ordinances do not apply to state fairgrounds, a board should consider local cannabis ordinances while developing a formal cannabis event policy."

Del Mar's code refers to a medical marijuana land-use prohibition. The city bans all commercial pot uses, from cultivation to delivery, except where preempted by federal or state law. Per state law, the city has to accommodate patients and caregivers and allow licensed delivery from outside city limits. The code allows personal use and cultivation of up to six plants in private homes (landlords can say no) by adults at least 21 years old. Pot use is strictly prohibited anywhere outside of a private home.

"Do we need to make our code compliant?" asked Druker. Del Mar assistant city attorney Barry Schultz said the city is in good shape. According to city planner Amanda Lee, things that could be adjusted in the code are, for example, that the local land-use prohibition covers all marijuana, medical and recreational. The city could also change the prohibition on the sale of pot.

Del Mar's ban on commercial uses isn't unique in the county. Only the City of San Diego allows all state-licensed commercial uses. And El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, and Oceanside only allow medical uses. But some North County cities may relax their rules. Vista is considering allowing deliveries and testing facilities; Oceanside is weighing dispensaries; and Encinitas will vote on commercial cultivation in November.

Barbara Gordon, a member of the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth, called the city's prohibition "good health policy. Medical marijuana is just a political term. Don't fool yourselves; it's all about big money." The community fears cultivation and crime, she said.

Judi Strang, another Alliance member, said patients and caregivers exploit a loophole in "medi-pot" laws that lets them exchange pot. "A lot of pot floats around between patients and caregivers."

Councilmember Ellie Haviland urged sending a letter to the fair board since they're working on their policy for pot events and looking to see what surrounding areas are doing. The letter would say what the council wants to see in the policy, and hopefully that would include "no smoking or selling or cannabis products onsite." The council agreed, making no changes to the code and voting without Druker to send a letter to the fair board.

Mayor Dwight Worden thought it was in line with what the fair board was originally considering. "If somebody wanted to put on a festival that was educational about pot and responsible use, but without onsite sales or consumption, that's kinda where they wanted to head with their policy," he said. "We are on good grounds to reinforce that."

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