What would have been San Diego’s largest-ever cannabis festival has gone up in smoke after its organizer says the Del Mar Fairgrounds quietly shunned his efforts to rewrite the contract and hold the festival without marijuana on site.
Lawrence Bame, CEO of The Goodlife Festival, had wanted to hold the festival as planned on Sept. 23, despite the 22nd District Agricultural Association (DAA) board canceling his contract two months ago out of fears of the DAA’s legal and professional liability in the face of federal law that continues to hold marijuana in a criminal light.
At a packed hearing on May 30, the DAA’s board of directors demanded that Bame stipulate that cannabis not be allowed into the festival. When he hesitated to make those assurances, the DAA canceled the contract and asked him to draft a new one that expressly discourages cannabis on site.
Roughly a month later, Bame said he received a phone call from a fairgrounds employee telling him the deal was off. He said he does not have that in writing.
“We were willing to agree to anything and they said, ‘Don’t come back,’” he said. “Nobody wants to put anything in writing, especially the board, especially for a smoking policy. I just got a phone call saying ‘You can’t go back to the board this year.’”
Tim Fennell, CEO of the fairgrounds, did not directly address the allegation in a statement sent to this newspaper.
“Lawrence Bame is welcome to bring this issue before the Board later this year,” he wrote. “The 22nd DAA is waiting for the Department of Food and Agriculture to provide rules and regulations in order to proceed with these type of events.”
Department of Food and Agriculture officials, reached last week, declined to discuss those rules and regulations, as they remain in progress.
The Goodlife Festival was looking to draw upwards of 5,000 people with a blend of live music and cannabis education. Cannabis would not have been sold or distributed, but attendees with medical marijuana cards would have been allowed to bring their own cannabis to smoke in designated areas, as allowed by state law.
Cannabis advocates were hailing the festival as a watershed moment for San Diego’s cannabis scene, which has lagged far behind the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, where state-owned fairgrounds regularly hold massive cannabis festivals that span several days and draw more than 100,000 people.
But uproar ensued after this newspaper broke the story on May 2. Anti-cannabis activists rallied to the cause, and councilmembers from Solana Beach and Del Mar called on the fairgrounds to cancel the festival. Members of the DAA board griped that the festival had been booked without their knowledge, despite the fact that Bame had been lobbying the board about a cannabis festival since 2010.
Bame said he finds it hypocritical that the fairgrounds continues to book events that the DAA board openly acknowledges draw thousands of pot smokers, yet went out of its way to crack down on his event, which is miniscule by comparison.
“If you go to the racetrack’s concert this weekend, thousands and thousands of people will be smoking. But you can’t smoke at my event because it’s called a cannabis event? Very schizophrenic,” Bame said. “Or go to KAABOO: tens of thousands of people will be doing things against the rules. They’re expecting 50,000 each on Saturday and Sunday. I was hoping for maybe five, six thousand. That’s the nonsense about the whole thing that frankly I don’t know how to deal with. So I’m doing nothing. We’ve spent a lot of money and a lot of time to be rejected. I don’t want to do that again.”