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A new state law allows pot sales at county fairs, but will the Mid-State Fair go green?

In this April 23, 2017, file photo, vendors offer marijuana for sale at the High Times Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino.
In this April 23, 2017, file photo, vendors offer marijuana for sale at the High Times Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino. AP

A minor clause in a recently passed California State Senate bill could lead to a dramatic increase in funnel cake sales at county fairs across the state.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB-94, which combined the medical and recreational marijuana laws into one set of rules. The massive bill includes a section that allows for cannabis sales at state-owned fairgrounds – either at county fairs or during private events – provided certain conditions are met. These include securing proper permits and, in the case of county fairs, having a designated enclosed space for pot. No recreational marijuana sales are legal until Jan. 1.

County fairs or district agricultural associations, which operate most fairgrounds throughout the state, would be able to apply for special permits to sell weed to visitors. But at least right now, it’s unclear whether you’ll be able to enjoy a joint and a corn dog at any old local fair, including the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles.

“There won’t be any this year. Whether there is in the future, that’s going to be up for debate,” said Tom Keffury of the Mid-State Fair. “Everybody is aware of the legislation and keen to it, and we will be meeting about it in the fall.”

Paso Robles Event Center officials will be addressing two particular issues: whether to allow fair vendors to sell marijuana and whether to open the fairgrounds to weed festivals throughout the year.

It’s unclear how marijuana sales would mesh with the fairgrounds’ new no smoking and vaping policy that goes into effect on Saturday.

In counties that make up the conservative central San Joaquin Valley – an area tough on pot and often opposed to the will of policymakers in Sacramento – fairs likely won’t allow it.

The CEOs of the Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Madera county fairs had reactions that ranged from cautious suspicion to disgust when asked about the new rules. Three said a final decision would come after their governing boards had time to analyze the new rule, but the largest of the four offered a definitive response.

The Big Fresno Fair has no plans at this time to allow any cannabis-related vendors at the annual Big Fresno Fair, nor hold or permit cannabis-related events at the Fresno Fairgrounds as part of our year-round rental facility operations,” said John Alkire, CEO for The Big Fresno Fair, who took that job in 2004 after six years as the CEO at the Mid-State Fair.

Alkire’s stance is in line with both the city that surrounds the state-owned fairgrounds and the county that shares its name. The city of Fresno voted last week to move forward on various pot-related bans, while the county has maintained strict rules that include a $1,000-per-plant fine that has led to several court battles.

Madera District Fair CEO Tom Mitchell said his fair does not have a policy regarding cannabis sales, as it is waiting for guidelines from the state to decide either way. He noted that Madera has not received any requests to host a marijuana-related event.

“The fair is an integral part of the community and a place where families and community come together to celebrate and have fun,” Mitchell said. “As we discuss cannabis events in the future we will certainly keep this in mind along with considering local ordinances that currently prohibit commercial cannabis activities.”

In Hanford, where voters will decide in 2018 whether to allow some commercial pot activity, the Kings Fair is going to wait and see. CEO Angie Avila said the fair’s governing board will consult with the city of Hanford and its police department, as well as state guidelines from the California Division of Fairs and Expositions, before making any decisions.

Tulare County has a few legal medical cannabis dispensaries, but Tulare County Fair CEO Pamela Fyock said she’d likely echo Alkire’s comments after talking it over with her board.

“It has the potential to bring a lot of problems to the fair,” she said. “We work very hard to make sure this is a safe, family-friendly environment.”

However, Fyock does not have an issue with adults-only cannabis events at the fairgrounds. In fact, Tulare has already hosted one such event.

“I was very skeptical and met with our law enforcement partners first,” she said. “We had a clear plan. But (the promoters) were easy to deal with, and there were absolutely zero problems. I see these shows progressing.”

While she isn’t likely to favor pot sales at county fairs, Fyock said that information booths designed to educate people about the plant could be a good idea.

Whether fairs in the nation’s top agricultural region will follow Oregon’s lead and allow for blue-ribbon cannabis plants also remains to be seen.

Taryn Luna of The Sacramento Bee contributed to this story.

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