California Cannabis Events: The Laws are Uncertain and in Flux

California cannabis events: the law is uncertain
California cannabis events: the law is uncertain

Entrepreneurs regularly seek our legal advice on all kinds of ideas for cannabis-related events, including conventions, competitions, farmers markets and classes in things like cooking and cultivating.

Under some states’ laws, the answer is simple. In Washington State, for instance, events where marijuana will be distributed are not feasible, since all production, processing and retail sales of marijuana require a license from the Liquor and Cannabis Board. Distribution without a license is clearly impermissible.

However, the legality of these events in other states, and particularly in California, is more ambiguous. We’ve written before about the need for California to “get it’s regulatory act together,” and we’ve also dissected and analyzed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), and now the “Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” (the AUMA Initiative). Though there is clearly a great deal of change on the horizon for marijuana regulation in California, the current state of the law is still such that determining what is and is not legal for entrepreneurs looking to host events is tricky.

Oftentimes, the permissibility of a particular cannabis event hinges on local law. In January of this year, HempCon, which was slated to take place at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, was forced by the City of San Jose to relocate to Daly City because the event ran afoul of San Jose city law. In 2014, San Jose passed a city ordinance mandating all sales or transfers of marijuana occur at dispensaries with a city license. San Jose also has a smoking ordinance that prohibits smoking marijuana inside public spaces.

These types of city and county ordinances are common in California. Los Angeles regulates dispensaries via Proposition D. Sacramento County does not permit marijuana dispensaries or marijuana-related businesses. The list truly goes on and on, and it changes on a near weekly basis.

So an important first question to ask yourself if you’re seeking to host one of these events in California is where you hope to locate it. Then look at local laws to determine how your business plan comports with or runs afoul of any local zoning regulations or ordinances. And call the local city hall or planning department. It almost always pays to work with the appropriate city or county officials where you plan to host your event in determining if any permits or licenses are available to you.

How will cannabis cups, conventions and other events be handled under California’s impending recreational legalization and regulation? The AUMA Initiative makes clear that many types of cannabis events will require a state license, but as noted by NORML director, Dale Gieringer, “There is no license category actually currently available for sales at fairs or things of that nature. It’s possible that increased regulations will squeeze these events out.” We agree in that California cannabis events that do to qualify under a particular category of license, but that still fall under the regulatory ambit of the state, will not be allowed to continue. California’s lax and ambiguous regulations have made the state a haven for cannabis events, but we do not see that continuing in the face of the more robust regulatory regime coming to California.