April 19, 2018 | Written By: Manzuri Law

In anticipation of this week’s 4/20 festivities, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (the “Bureau”) issued a warning Tuesday that businesses holding retail licenses to sell cannabis could face strict penalties if they get caught participating in an unlicensed temporary cannabis event.

So, what does the Bureau’s warning mean for the hundreds and thousands of 4/20 events that will be happening across California this weekend? Does this mean that all those events are considered illegal despite the fact that cannabis is now legalized in California?  The answer is – it depends.  Cannabis laws are still uncertain and constantly in flux, and the legal analysis of whether a cannabis event requires a state license is intensively fact-specific.

If you plan on hosting or participating in a 4/20 event this weekend (or a cannabis event of any kind in the future), here is the bare minimum you need to know:

You do not need a cannabis event license for any cannabis event that is private.

BCC regulations generally require that event organizers obtain a state license before cannabis can be sold, served or consumed at an event open to the public. If you plan on doing any of the activities below, then the event is not private and requires a license from the Bureau:

Aside from the above activites, private events do not require state licenses of any kind.  Though state cannabis laws do not currently define “private events,” we can use California’s Alcohol Beverage Commission (“ABC”) rules as a guideline.  Thereunder, an event is not required if ALL of the following are true[1]:

Therefore, if we apply the ABC rules to a private 4/20 party, then you can “serve” your guests for free at a private location without having to obtain a state license. 

What is/is not allowed at a cannabis event open to the public?

Where Can a Public Cannabis Event be Held?

Bummer Alert – For now, cannabis events can only take place at county fairs and district agricultural associations (“DAA’s”), provided that certain other requirements are met.  No other venue is allowed.  (Unfortunately, this means that there won’t be any licensed cannabis events in Los Angeles anytime soon since there are no county fairs or DAA’s located anywhere within the city or county.)

The Bureau also requires that event licensees obtain “written approval from the local jurisdiction authorizing the applicant to engage in onsite cannabis sales to, and onsite consumption by, persons 21 years of age or older at the event.”[2]   This effectively means that locals will have the power to “veto” cannabis events by refusing to provide applicants with the requisite local approval to hold a temporary event.  We saw this most recently with the 4/20 High Times event in San Bernardino where the city council voted 6-0 to decline the company a permit in time to get a state license.

Thus far, the Bureau has issued 47 temporary event licenses throughout California to groups limited to holding events on county fairgrounds that have authorized such events with city approval.  If you are interested in obtaining a cannabis event license, you can locate the application here and contact us if you need further guidance: Cannabis Event Organizer License Application 

As with all cannabis legal developments, the state is playing catch up with the industry. In the meantime, the BCC has come out and said emphatically that Prop-215 4/20 events are not allowed. In other words, don’t expect leeway if you’re having an event without a license.

Pending Bills – Looking Ahead

The potential consequences for throwing an event without a license? Besides fines and a misdemeanor charge, “Any bureau licensee participating in an unlicensed cannabis event may be subject to disciplinary action,” the BCC email warning said, adding that “lawful participation by bureau licensees in any temporary cannabis events that allows sales and/or consumption” requires the issuance of appropriate state licenses.

All that being said – the way to go for 4/20 now seems a private party – (Private) Party On!

[1]California Business & Professions Code (“B&P”) § 2399.1

[2]B&P § 5601(d)(8).

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice.