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Russ Penniman speaks to the other members of the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors during an Aug.14 meeting. Photo by Shana Thompson
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Fair board approves cannabis-related events

DEL MAR — In a rare split decision, and despite public opposition, the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors at the Aug. 14 meeting agreed to allow cannabis-related events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

But selling, distributing, consuming or possessing marijuana will remain prohibited at the state-owned facility. Drug paraphernalia, as defined by the applicable federal and state laws, will also be banned.

With directors Russ Penniman, Lisa Barkett and Lee Haydu opposed and Kathlyn Mead absent, the board voted 5-3 to adopt a policy that also requires events to focus on the medical use of marijuana through education, advocacy and promotion.

Director David Watson said the new guidelines comply with local, state and federal rules and the policy can be revisited if any of those laws change.

He noted the 2016 initiative legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in California was approved by voters statewide, countywide and in Del Mar and Solana Beach.

“So, there is democracy,” Watson said, adding that the new policy is “a good compromise based on the state law today.”

All eight speakers disagreed.

“Posting a no smoking sign or having security will not stop the consumption of pot,” Barbara Gordon said. “Other events that you have had at the fairgrounds have had a no smoking policy.  They’ve had signage. They’ve had security. They’ve had law enforcement.

“But they still have pot smoking,” she added. “Why do you think you’re going to be able to control the use at the event when you have not been able to control the patrons at other events?”

Haley Guiffrida said she was surrounded by people smoking marijuana at a July post-horserace concert.

Frederick Schenk speaks to the other members of the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors during an Aug.14 meeting. Photo by Shana Thompson

“I highly recommend that other events become more safe and standards are met before adding a completely new festival,” she said. “Given the lack of compliance with current fairground policy regarding smoking, I find it hard to believe that a cannabis event … would not result in the same disregard for rules.”

Others had concerns about the message a cannabis festival will send to youngsters.

“Regardless of the label you put on it, it is still pot to the teens and young adults,” Becky Rapp said. “Your goal will be to educate event attendees. … It’s hard to imagine that there is anyone who needs that type of education with movies, YouTube and social media.

“Our community is not well-served by an event that promotes marijuana consumption,” she added.

“One of the things the Del Mar Fairgrounds does really well is marketing,” Kelly McCormick said. “It’s sending our kids the message that pot use is no big deal. … Our kids are hearing the advertising even if they’re not the targets of the ads.”

“Education, advocacy and promotion are purely free speech, First Amendment issues,” Watson said. “If someone wanted to rent a building tomorrow, even without this policy, solely for the purpose of just talking about marijuana, they could as long as they’re not going to use it, possess it or sell it.”

“I think we need to look at this,” Director Barkett said. “We have to think of the best use for this facility. Are we really going in the right direction? … Why are we stepping into this?”

“I think we’re going down a path that we probably don’t want to go down,” Penniman added. “After 35 years in the military, I’m skeptical on this.”

The agreement, which was approved by the general manager but not the board, was rescinded by the directors, who said they couldn’t support any use or promotion of marijuana products because both are illegal under federal law.

Contracts, which will require board approval, should be written to ensure the promoter is responsible for enforcement and security. Directors will revisit the policy in January 2020.


Anju Sandhu October 18, 2018 at 1:53 pm

I second every comment Amber made above. Alcohol is linked to cancer and damage to body organs, yet is encouraged all over the place with Happy Hours. Don’t kids need a break from all this booze!? Marijuana is a medicine for curing pain to epilepsy to cancer.. Wake up Del Mar! Canada gets it!

Amber August 16, 2018 at 3:26 pm

I cannot believe so much time and energy is spent banning cannabis and fighting what was voted to be legal in this state yet at the same time same people of authority proudly boasts that our city is the the Microbrew capital of the U.S.

The fairgrounds sell alcohol, and it is fact that alcohol claims more lives, including those of teenagers, every single day. It seems to me that local San Diego government needs to be educated. If San Diego spent a fraction of the time they have spent trying to block and ban something their constituents voted to be legal on the true dangers to our precious community like alcohol and the opiate problems they might actually do some good, instead of harming not only the county’s ability to increase revenue to put towards our kids, and the betterment of San Diego. The people of San Diego need to start asking how much money or what promises, big Pharma and the Alcohol companies have made to these city counsels, and make our decision this coming November election very carefully!

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