As the 2017 San Diego County Fair kicked off on June 2, prevention advocates were pleased that plans for the county’s largest pot festival scheduled at the fairgrounds on Sept. 23 were at least temporarily put on hold.
Marijuana advocates trumpet the passage of Proposition 64 in November (the Adult Use of Marijuana Act) as a public “mandate” in support of all things marijuana. Just like the Prop. 64 campaign, which outspent the opposition 25 to 1, this is misleading. Voters supported what was promoted – keeping marijuana users out of jail, banning public smoking, bringing in tax revenue and including local control so cities and counties can establish their own rules. The fact that it passed does not mean voters support cannabis festivals on public land, marijuana billboards on the highways, pot shops on their corners or gummy bears laden with THC.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors held a special meeting May 30 to consider all sides of the issue, including impacts on drug prevention, law enforcement, neighbors and youth. In a refreshing departure from many officials, board members spoke seriously about their oath to uphold all federal, state and local laws.
Allowing an event where vendors showcase cannabis strains and offer cooking demonstrations with THC-infused oils and butters, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own pot to use in designated smoking areas, would clearly violate federal law. And after analyzing various regulations, including those in Prop. 64, the California Department of Public Health has determined that ingesting or smoking either recreational or medical cannabis in public is prohibited. So organizers were told the existing contract would be canceled, but the board would be willing to consider an alternate plan if it adhered to all laws and focused on “education.”
However, if promoters return with a plan that claims to adhere to federal law, I would urge the board to strongly consider the message the Goodlife Festival will send to impressionable young people.
Marijuana is the opposite of a “good life” for developing adolescent brains and at-risk adults. With today’s high-potency THC, marijuana has serious long-term negative impacts on mental health, academic success and future career prospects. More teens use marijuana than tobacco (and nine out of 10 marijuana users are smoking it), and they are more at risk for addiction than adults.
We’ve been down this road with tobacco and should learn from our mistakes. Tobacco farmers and cigarette companies were the economic drivers and leading sponsors of county fairs across the country. As recently as 1965, more than 40 percent of U.S. adults were current cigarette smokers, and tobacco was promoted for energy, concentration and weight loss. Youth smoking rates peaked 30 years later in 1995 at 36 percent. To this day, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in our country.
While marijuana is a different drug, it is a drug nonetheless and remains illegal under federal law. Long-term effects of smoking and consuming marijuana are still being studied. Meanwhile, research on the impacts of marijuana on adolescent brain development and mental health, driving impairment and youth perception about the harms of marijuana are well established.
Approving a cannabis festival calling itself “Goodlife” will result in a regional marketing strategy with radio and newspaper ads, billboards, and online promotion – all touting cannabis as the “Goodlife.” It will be impossible to restrict such promotions to a 21 and up audience.
The fair board is under no legal or political obligation to permit a cannabis festival, and should keep public health and safety a priority for events held on public land.
Craig Balben is a resident of Oceanside and the President of the North Coastal Prevention Coalition