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Controversial cannabis education debuts at fairgrounds

Above: The 22nd District Agricultural Association – which operates the Fairgrounds – established a policy in August of 2018 prohibiting the possession, use, consumption, distribution or sale of cannabis on the Fairground’s property. The policy was drafted largely in response to a long-anticipated event meant to educate attendees on cannabis and its various health-related uses. Photo by Lexy Brodt

DEL MAR — After about two years of community opposition and hesitation by the fairground’s governing board, an event geared at educating the public on the medical uses of cannabis attracted a broad demographic to the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

“Look, it’s not a bunch of pot heads, these are people with real problems,” said Brian Davis, co-founder of Mozen, a local company that makes cannabis vaporizer pens.

The one-day, May 11 event — termed the Goodlife Seminar Series — was co-sponsored by San Diego dispensary Torrey Holistics and featured nine vendor booths, a cooking with cannabis demonstration, and seminars with titles such as “treating pets with cannabis,” and “ask a neuroscientist.”

Lawrence Bame, the president of the series, said the event’s planners were expecting an older demographic — which is exactly what they got. A large portion of the attendees were seniors.

“They want to try this, that, or the other thing, or they’ve been to a dispensary and they did not get the answers to their questions,” Bame said. “ … this isn’t hippy stuff.”

Solana Beach resident Joe Gordon attended the event with his wife, who has chronic back and hip pain. He said she is curious about trying cannabis products for pain management.

“She is in the education process,” Gordon said, as his wife spoke to a representative from a local wellness center.

CannaCraft representative Annie Lieberman shows Goodlife Seminar Series visitors the various types of products CannaCraft offers – from a beer produced in partnership with Lagunitas to a cannabis chocolate line. However, all of the products displayed at the event were cannabis-free. Photo by Lexy Brodt

There were plenty of samples for visitors to try: High Style Brewing Co. was handing out tastes of their (typically) cannabis-infused brew beverages, and other vendors distributed candies so attendees could sample the flavor before trying the actual cannabis product at a dispensary.

However, every product was deliberately cannabis-free.

The use, possession, consumption, distribution and sale of cannabis was barred from the event.

“We’re not allowed to have rolling papers, anything but pictures, all of these product displays are empty,” Bame said, gesturing to the various booths lined with branded merchandise such as sunglasses and baseball caps.

Bame — who has been hosting various food, home and gardening shows at the fairgrounds for over three decades — has been looking to host the Goodlife Seminar Series for several years. An early iteration of the event set to take place in 2017 was cancelled over concerns that potential cannabis possession or use onsite would violate federal law.

In August 2018, the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors came up with a cannabis interim event policy — largely in response to Bame’s continued efforts to hold the Goodlife Seminar Series on the state-owned property. The policy reads that the board may only contract an interim event “with the purpose of education, advocacy, and promotion only of medical uses of cannabis,” while disallowing the use, consumption, distribution or sale of cannabis on the property.

In November, the board approved a revised event contract, which aligned with the board’s policy. However, the event reignited controversy in March after fine print on the event’s promotional pamphlet raised eyebrows and prompted a long-winded dialogue on hemp’s legality (it is), as well as the legality of advertising certain cannabis products as having unsubstantiated health benefits (it’s not).

“No products containing greater than 0.3% THC can be purchased, sampled, or consumed during the event,” the pamphlet read.

A federal farm bill went into effect in 2019 that removed hemp from the government’s list of controlled substances. Hemp contains much lower concentrations of THC than marijuana — 0.3% or less. However, the board reasserted its position that there were to be no cannabis products sold at the event.

For as long as the event has been a topic of conversation, parents and community members have opposed it on the grounds that it sends the wrong message to area youth about drug use.

Becky Rapp, a San Diego resident who has spoken in opposition to the event at several 22nd DAA board meetings, attended the series and said she was concerned about the qualifications of some vendors when it came to common questions such as appropriate dosage. She also worried about certain booths suggesting their products provide health benefits.

Bame, however, argues that the fairgrounds has a “historical mandate” to educate people — even if the topic at hand may stir the pot.

“They’re violating it a little bit,” he said.

Bame said he is starting to consider private venues at which to hold future iterations of the event.