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Vista pursues policy for cannabis events on private property 

VISTA — The Vista City Council resumed discussions this week about allowing cannabis events on private property in the city and instructed city staff to draft a policy setting regulations and fees. 

City leaders previously discussed the possibility of cannabis events last spring but decided to pause further discussion until after the completion of the city’s cannabis equity study. 

With the study now complete and the council agreeing last month to create a cannabis equity program, Councilmember Joe Green brought the topic of cannabis events back to the council’s March 12 meeting. 

A passionate advocate for expanding cannabis operations in Vista, Green emphasized that state law already has stringent regulations for cannabis events, and the city would implement those guidelines with its own additions concerning private property.

“We’ve been at the tip of the spear when it comes to cannabis in the city of Vista, and this is another way for us to continue to do that, to actually have events,” Green said. “This is just private property, but I’m hoping this can also somewhat be the model for public property events as we move forward. But this is something that can be done now.” 

Green reiterated a list of regulations for a potential policy, some required by the state and others that the city could add on. Firstly, the cannabis event promoter would need to obtain a cannabis event license from the state Department of Cannabis Control and a temporary use permit from the city. 

Only cannabis products from legal Vista dispensaries permitted under Measure Z — the 2018 ballot measure allowing a certain number of local dispensaries — could be sold at the event, and the event promoter would be required to partner with at least one local Measure Z dispensary. 

The entire event area would need to be privately fenced off or in an enclosed space with no visible access from the public right-of-way. Events would also be limited to those 21 and older; no alcohol or tobacco would be permitted for consumption, and all cannabis products must be sealed upon leaving the venue.

Green also suggested limiting events to two days, which other council members largely agreed with, although Councilmember Corinna Contreras said she would be open to a three-day limit. 

When it comes to only allowing Measure Z dispensaries to hold events, Contreras said she also wanted to open it up to dispensaries that could be licensed under the city’s equity program in the future. 

City Attorney Walter Chung said because licenses issued through the cannabis equity program would be outside of those permitted under Measure Z, opening the events policy to these license holders would be tricky. 

“I would hate to increase the licenses for folks under the guise of social equity, then have them prohibited from being able to have a presence and be a vendor at one of these events,” Contreras said. “We might be kind of handcuffed to Measure Z at this point, but I’m looking for a creative solution.” 

Over a dozen city residents made public comments about the policy. Several spoke in support, saying that this is something both residents and cannabis industry professionals want and would boost local revenues. 

“Cannabis isn’t going to go away. People smoking cannabis aren’t going to stop. Cannabis brings people together, and as we heard, if these gatherings of people aren’t regulated in a manner that brings true safety … it can become chaos. Having something like this in place is super important to the industry,” said Savana Rubin.

Other residents shared concerns about negative impacts on youth, event attendees driving under the influence, disturbing neighboring residents, and a lack of oversight for these events. 

Students with the North County NAACP Youth Council and Elevate Youth California said they are worried that seeing adults attend these events could normalize cannabis for youth. They also asked that cannabis events have stringent safety measures to prevent youth access.

“This normalization of cannabis is encouraging substance use and consequently negatively impacting young lives and stunting brain development,” said Mission Vista High School student Kaylene Speller. “I want to protect my fellow peers, and I hope you also feel the same.”

Council members said they are committed to a “zero-tolerance policy” for promoters who allow minors to access their events. The policy would require ID scanners and prohibit these events within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, and other areas where minors gather. 

Contreras also suggested using a portion of the local cannabis tax revenue for social media advertising to highlight the negative impacts of youth cannabis use. 

Mayor John Franklin said Tuesday’s outline for cannabis events is a “good start” and that he supports moving forward with strict regulations. 

“The people of Vista have voted to make Measure Z and Prop 63 and cannabis part of the business and social fabric of the city, so given that, I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t accommodate well-regulated industry events, same as we do for our brewing industry here in Vista and any other industry,” Franklin said.

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