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California to welcome cannabis for sale and consumption at state fair

Annual event in July will be first US state fair to feature on-site marijuana dispensaries and competitions

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California’s state fair has moved to become the first event of its kind by allowing the sale and consumption of marijuana on its grounds when its 2024 edition unfolds in July.

Fair planners on Tuesday announced the decision to allow visitors to buy and use cannabis at the 17-day event beginning 12 July, touting it as a watershed moment in the relationship between weed and the US, where about half of Americans now live in states where marijuana is legalized. Among those states is California, which legalized marijuana production in 2016 – and is on track to be the first to sell cannabis legally at a fair, officials said.

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“Hosting cannabis sales and consumption is a groundbreaking milestone in destigmatization by facilitating a deeper connection between consumers and the farmers who cultivate their products with such care,” Lauren Carpenter, the co-founder of Embarc, a company preparing to manage an experiential marijuana dispensary at the state fair’s site, said in a statement.

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Carpenter also said the upcoming edition of the fair, held in the state capital of Sacramento, would broaden an educational cannabis exhibit and cultivation awards competition that debuted in 2022.

Cannabis sales through Embarc’s on-site dispensary, the expanded exhibit and awards competition all became possible after California governor, Gavin Newsom, signed legislation authorizing licensed cannabis events, for which the state fair had advocated, said Carpenter.

She added that all the new elements in her opinion were “a major step forward for responsible normalization”. Their purpose is to showcase the plant alongside various California agricultural staples, including wine, cheese, olive oil and craft beer.

The exhibit and competition’s executive producer, James Leitz, said the contest had added product categories aimed at recognizing pre-rolls, concentrates, cartridges, edibles, beverages and wellness products, among other new components.

The expanded contest had drawn more than 500 entries, which was double the amount sent in for 2023. Leitz said he hopedthe competition would provide “patrons the opportunity to directly engage with and consume winning brands” and eventually transform “public understanding of the plant”.

Tom Martinez, the state fair’s chief executive officer, echoed Leitz, adding that the “expanded … offerings to include onsite sales and consumption in a designated area [would] provide a platform to amplify California’s rich agricultural bounty and facilitate storytelling for farmers from diverse backgrounds and experiences”.

The changes unveiled on Tuesday by California’s 170-year-old state fair arrive as marijuana has not only become increasingly decriminalized in communities across the US, but also accepted in particular by younger Americans. As the Associated Press reported in April, a Gallup poll last fall found 70% of adults in the US support legalizing marijuana, which was up significantly from about 30% in 2000.

To that end, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration recently proposed to reclassify cannabis from a schedule I to a schedule III drug, placing it nationwide alongside medicines like ketamine and Tylenol with codeine – which are legal but restricted – rather than with illegal substances such as heroin and LSD.

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Nonetheless, some criticisms of the movement to legalize marijuana around the US and the world have nothing to do with moral qualms about ingesting a plant that was long illicit.

Instead, cannabis has a significant environmental impact: it can be energy intensive, can lead to intense use of pesticides and presents another demand on scarce water in some regions.

Recent reporting from the Guardian cited studies which estimate that 1% of US electricity was used to cultivate cannabis – rising to 3% in California, among various other effects.

A focal point of the revamped cannabis exhibit and competition at the California fair would be a new 30,000 sq ft consumption lounge, where attenders over the age of 21 would be able to try products from farms and brands across the state who have earned so-called Golden Bear awards.

California’s state fair in 2023 reported about 590,000 attenders.



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