Make Festivals Dope Again

Assemblyman Bill Quirk discusses his new bill to legalize cannabis events.


Imagine, if you will, a foggy afternoon in Golden Gate Park. The annual Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival is in full swing, and as you pass by the umpteenth booth offering beer, you find yourself in front of another area for adults only — one where you can purchase and consume cannabis.

This is the intent behind Assembly Bill 2020, which Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) introduced on Feb. 5.

While the passage of Prop. 64 in November 2016 legalized cannabis for adult use, it also restricted the variety of public functions where marijuana may be consumed. In the past, offering free samples for qualified medical users and hosting events in various venues centered around consuming were possible, but in 2018, cannabis events are only allowed at a handful of county fairgrounds throughout California.

Quirk says he was happy when Oakland brought the bill forward and asked for his support. A longtime advocate for cannabis legalization, Quirk’s chief priorities remain eliminating the black market and making sure marijuana isn’t available to underage users.

“Right now, distribution is primarily through the black market,” he explains. “That means high school and even middle school kids can get ahold of it. I had two kids, and I’m quite aware that at middle schools and at high schools, you can get ahold of cannabis. If we can get rid of the black market, then we can protect our kids.”

In some senses, Assembly Bill 2020 is simply a reality check. Though it may not be legal to consume cannabis at music festivals and other events in California, interested parties still find ways to toke up. Allowing for regulated cannabis consumption and sales in designated areas offers numerous benefits.

For one, the safety and quality of the product would increase, given that only cannabis grown and tested to legal specifications could be sold. Also, in much the same way that wristbands and stamps indicate who is allowed to have alcohol at a given event, restricting cannabis usage to designated areas for adults would help to eliminate underage usage.

Assemblyman Quirk cites Hayward’s annual Wine and Cheese Festival and the Blues and Booze Festival as two events that would benefit from this new legislation.

“Instead of having some sort of black market festival where you’re not sure if the product is safe and where kids of all ages may be getting ahold of it, you’re going to have something that’s permitted by the city,” he says. “Similar to alcohol or smoking, you can make sure only people 21 and over get it, and not people who are younger.”

It seems like a no-brainer that if a state is motivated to legalize cannabis, they’d have a plan in place to cover how it might be responsibly consumed in public. However, Prop. 64 offers very little guidance on this front, which is why Oakland and Assemblyman Quirk are working to put this infrastructure in place.

“Not everything can be in a proposition,” Quirk says, adding that Prop. 64 “was something I think almost nobody who voted for it read fully. It was long enough as is. There is still discretion for the legislature, though, so here’s something that I’d like to do and that the legislature can do. The whole point here though is that this is open, it’s permitted, and it must obey all state and local rules.”

In other words, Prop. 64 gave the state latitude to refine the law as it sees fit. And just as recreational and medical sales of cannabis are decided on a county-by-county basis — the reason why you’ll find no recreational sales in Marin County — Assembly Bill 2020 puts the power in the hands of local jurisdictions. This likely means that areas like the Inland Empire — which has been staunchly against cannabis sales throughout the course of legalization — will stand pat, but other areas like San Francisco, Oakland, and West Hollywood are primed to take advantage should the bill be voted into law.

Is that likely to happen?

“We don’t have a vote count yet,” Quirk says, “but I’m anticipating that we’ll get this bill through. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from members — but again, nothing happens until it happens.”

So while we may have to wait just a little bit longer before we can brush past “BeerLands” and head straight for “WeedLands” while stage-hopping at Outside Lands, the day may soon be upon us. When it comes, it will mark yet another step forward in the infinitely complex process of defining the role we want legal cannabis to play in California.

Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music  for SF Weekly. |  @zackruskin

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