Orange County Fair board to weigh options for the future of cannabis at Costa Mesa site

Jeanine Robbins knows the Orange County fairgrounds like the back of her hand.

The Costa Mesa venue is where, for the last two decades, she and her husband, Mike, have been selling smoking-related merchandise at high-traffic events like the annual Orange County Fair and ongoing swap meets as co-owners of Paradise Cigars, an operation run out of a mobile humidor.

However, these days business isn’t what it used to be, due in part to a 2018 policy prohibiting the sales of glass pipes associated with marijuana smoking and products containing cannabidiol (CBD), derived from cannabis plants — two big moneymakers for the small-business owners.

“Cannabis is legal here in the state of California, and this is a state property,” Robbins said. “CBD should be allowed to be sold. Glass products should be allowed to be sold.”

Pipes owned by Jeanine and Mike Robbins account for 30% of their business’ inventory, yet they cannot be sold at the fairgrounds.

(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

Now, the couple’s Anaheim home doubles as a de facto storage unit for tubs containing custom-blown glass creations and bottles of tinctures and roll-ons designed to ease pain or stress (purported attributes of cannabidiol) without getting users “high.”

Currently, cannabis is prohibited at all events on the fairgrounds, as is the sale or marketing of any product containing CBD or THC, the psychoactive compound in the plant. Marijuana paraphernalia is also forbidden. But change may be on the horizon.

Last week, the Orange County Fair & Event Center Board of Directors authorized staff to review its Cannabis Event Policy and determine whether its prohibitions might be adjusted. The decision was made at the recommendation of a governance committee that regularly reviews policies.

Committee member Sandra Cervantes explained at a Feb. 24 board meeting that attitudes and trends around marijuana products have shifted since the policy was adopted.

CBD products are becoming widely used among American consumers, yet are forbidden from the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

CBD products are becoming widely used among American consumers yet are forbidden at the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. Now, fair officials are considering whether to loosen the ban.

(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

“Since that time, CBD products, which contain trace amounts of THC, have become widely acceptable and available throughout Orange County,” Cervantes said. “Staff shared [that] many … event promoters would like to include vendors at their events who sell CBD products but are prohibited by the current policy.”

OCFEC Executive Director Michele Richards confirmed the site has received requests regarding pet products containing CBD and questions about whether the online dispensary locator and review portal Weedmaps might be an event sponsor.

“A lot of things have changed,” she said Monday.

In November 2020, Costa Mesa residents overwhelmingly voted to allow retail cannabis sales and delivery, and local ordinances now outline where and how dispensaries may operate.

Sixty-four applications for storefront businesses have so far been submitted, one city official said in a presentation Monday before the Planning Commission, whose members will be reviewing and granting use permits.

This summer, the California State Fair will for the first time host a cannabis-growing competition in Sacramento, in which licensed cultivators will be judged on the quality of components in their indoor, outdoor and mixed-light entries.

“For the past 166 years, the CA State Fair has always been a first mover, leading the State Fair circuit with innovative programming and large-scale competitions that celebrate the best the state has to offer, making the addition of cannabis cultivation a natural new category,” State Fair Director Jess Durfee said in an announcement in September.

O..C. Fair & Event officials would not speculate on how loose the strings on the policy could get, or whether a cannabis expo might be in the fairgrounds’ future.

Richards said she planned to revisit the considerations made when the policy was drafted — including local cannabis ordinances, the site’s proximity to schools, parks and youth centers, the involvement of law enforcement and federal prohibitions — to see what has changed.

“The reason the board [did] not allow cannabis-related events was because of the city of Costa Mesa’s ordinances, which we know have changed, and the proximity to schools, parks and other places youths congregate, which have not changed,” Richards said. “So they’re really going to have to have a debate about this.”

As for Robbins, she’d simply like to go back to selling glassware without worrying about what plans customers may have for the pieces.

“A pipe is just a pipe,” she said, describing an elderly couple who used to buy the objects to place in their garden. “At what point do you stop and just let the people sell the product as it is?”

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