O.C. Fair Board to ban marijuana-related events at Costa Mesa fairgrounds

Orange County Fair Board members voted Thursday to direct staff to develop a policy prohibiting cannabis events on the fairgrounds property in Costa Mesa.
(File Photo / Los Angeles Times)

Orange County Fair Board members decided Thursday to move forward on a policy that would prohibit marijuana-related events at the Costa Mesa fairgrounds.

Board members raised concerns with how such events might affect nearby properties or conflict with the organization’s mission.

“Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something,” member Ashleigh Aitken said. “And I don’t feel that this is part … of how we’re trying to present ourselves to not just the Costa Mesa community but the larger community.”

Following Thursday’s 7-0 vote — with board Vice Chairman Robert Ruiz and member Gerardo Mouet absent — staff of the OC Fair & Event Center will develop an official policy for review at a future board meeting.

While the decision of whether to permit cannabis events is up to individual fairgrounds, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has outlined some general recommendations.

Among them is to consider the distance between the fairgrounds and schools, day care centers, recreation facilities and other areas where minors congregate. Medical marijuana use areas cannot be within 1,000 feet of such facilities, according to the department’s guidelines, and it is illegal to smoke or use cannabis within that distance of a school or youth recreational area while children are present.

Given that the Orange County fairgrounds is surrounded by Costa Mesa High School, Davis Magnet School, Orange Coast College, TeWinkle Park and Vanguard University, virtually the entire property would be precluded from hosting cannabis events under the distance criteria, according to Michele Richards, the Fair & Event Center’s vice president of business development.

Board members pointed out that the fairgrounds also contains venues such as Centennial Farm and the Heroes Hall veterans museum, which regularly host youth educational programs and field trips.

“I think it’s very unlikely that you could ever coordinate some kind of event here that wouldn’t impact something that we’re already doing,” said board member Douglas La Belle.

According to the state guidelines, another consideration is the surrounding community’s feeling about cannabis.

Though California voters legalized recreational cannabis use in 2016, the law allowed cities to ban marijuana businesses.

In Costa Mesa’s case, the city “really prohibits almost all marijuana uses and activities,” Assistant City Attorney Tarquin Preziosi told the board.

The major exception is Measure X — a local voter-approved initiative that allows businesses that research, test, process and manufacture some medical marijuana products to open in an area north of South Coast Drive, west of Harbor Boulevard, south of MacArthur Boulevard and east of the Santa Ana River.

“Any type of retail sale or distribution is expressly prohibited,” Preziosi said.

City Council members voted several times last year to keep in place an urgency ordinance that allows Costa Mesa to continue prohibiting marijuana-related activities to the extent possible under state law.

“I think, clearly, at least the immediately surrounding community is not supportive of something like this,” board member Newton Pham said of cannabis events.

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