Backers of the Chalice Festival sue California cannabis regulators, Victorville over event permit

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Organizers of one of the most popular marijuana festivals in California are suing the Bureau of Cannabis Control and the city of Victorville after both entities refused to issue permits for an upcoming event in San Bernardino County — a suit that could set the fate of big-scale cannabis events throughout the state.

The parent company of Chalice California, Wisdom Apparatus, filed the suit Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court, arguing that the city doesn’t have authority to block cannabis consumption and sales at the state-owned San Bernardino County fairgrounds, where the Chalice has been held since 2016.

“It is not their jurisdiction,” wrote Chalice founder Doug Dracup, referring to Victorville, in an Instagram post.

Victorville spokeswoman Sue Jones said late Tuesday that the city was unaware of the lawsuit. The Bureau of Cannabis Control declined to comment.

The conflict is centered on an element of the state’s new cannabis law, Proposition 64, that says temporary cannabis events – which are now legal only at county fairgrounds and state-owned agricultural districts – must get written permission from city leaders if they want to allow consumption and sales.

Previously, cannabis-oriented events were regulated by venue owners. That meant Victorville’s High Desert Event Center, at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds, has been able to approve and host several cannabis-themed festivals each year, despite opposition from city leaders.

Dracup said Chalice organizers have been working on getting a license since last year, and that this year’s festival, slated for July 13-15, is set to attract some 45,000 people.

Wisdom Apparatus secured an annual state license to host up to 10 events over the coming year. But when Prop. 64 regulations kicked in on Jan. 1, the law required festival organizers to get another set of permits, giving Victorville officials some say in whether they would or wouldn’t want the festival in their community.

“Pioneering new territory, we set out with a group of attorneys and professionals to interpret the laws written on throwing cannabis events — verifying we were fully compliant, and that we were operating lawfully,” Dracup wrote.

After reviewing the issue, Dracup said their attorneys deemed that the “fairgrounds itself was the local jurisdiction,” and that the state fair organization “was sovereign to the local ordinances.” So, with support from the fairground’s board, he said they filed an application with the state on May 1, within the 60-day window now required as part of the permitting process.

However, state spokesman Traverso said the cannabis bureau couldn’t approve the request at that time because Chalice didn’t have written permission from Victorville city leaders.

Chalice organizers soon began appealing to the city of Victorville. On June 5, a couple dozen festival supporters attended Victorville’s city council meeting, asking members to put the discussion on a future city agenda.

“We are trying to be respectful,” Dracup wrote.

But Victorville officials refused to put the item on the agenda. In a letter included in the lawsuit, Victorville City Manager Keith Metzler wrote that city leaders have already discussed the state’s new cannabis laws extensively and decided to ban all commercial cannabis activity in the city.

“I have determined that there is not a desire for the Victorville City Council to formally agendize this matter,” Metzler wrote.

Metzler added that because the organizers weren’t getting city approval, he believed they also would fail to get state approval.

“I expect the planned Chalice event will not be held at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds,” he wrote, “as that would be an unpermitted, and therefore unlawful, event.”

Dracup is hoping to rally supporters to attend the Victorville council meeting slated for tonight, with a goal of convincing the council to change its decision.

The lawsuit is asking a judge to require the Bureau of Cannabis Control to approve a license for the festival. It also seeks a court declaration that the state cannabis bureau does not need permission from local cities or counties for any future events at state-owned fairgrounds.

Whatever the outcome of the protest and lawsuit, Dracup said the Chalice festival will still take place. But social media comments indicate that many ticket holders and vendors are considering pulling out of the event if it doesn’t get a license for marijuana consumption and sales.

By: Brooke Staggs, OC Register

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