During a time when almost half of Americans live in a state that currently has legalized cannabis, California is preparing to host an event that will be the first of its kind. The annual state fair for The Golden State is set to be the first US state fair to feature the sale and consumption of marijuana on its grounds when the 2024 event opens this month. 

Fair planners announced earlier in June the decision to allow visitors to buy and use cannabis while attending the 17-day event that begins July 12, creating a new historical moment in the relationship between cannabis and the US. Legalizing marijuana production back in 2016, California is on track to be the first state to have onsite marijuana dispensaries and competitions at a fair, according to officials. 

“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.

According to Carpenter, the fair, which will be held in the state’s capital, Sacramento, will help expand an educational cannabis exhibit and cultivation awards competition that debuted in 2022, with the contest’s executive producer, James Leitz, stating the contest has added product categories highlights pre-rolls, concentrates, cartridges, edibles, beverages, and wellness products, among other new components. The expansion of the contest has drawn more than 500 entries, and Leitz stated his hopes that the competition would offer “patrons the opportunity to directly engage with and consume winning brands” and ultimately transform “public understanding of the plant.”

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The expanded exhibit and awards competition became possible after California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation that authorized licensed cannabis events, which the state fair had supported. Carpenter added that the new elements were “a major step forward for responsible normalization.” Embarc heads to the state fair to showcase cannabis alongside other California agricultural staples such as wine, cheese, olive oil, and craft beer. 

Echoing the contest’s executive producer, the state fair’s chief executive officer, Tom Martinez, added 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 hub of the revamped cannabis exhibit and competition at this year’s state fair would be a new 30,000 sq ft consumption lounge. The lounge would allow attendees over 21 to try products from farms and brands across the state that have earned so-called Golden Bear awards.

The new changes to California’s 170-year-old state fair come at a time when cannabis has become increasingly decriminalized in communities across the nation and accepted especially by younger Americans. As reported in April by the Associated Press, a Gallup poll last fall showed that 70% of adults in the US support legalizing cannabis, a 30% uptick from 2000.

In another move to push forward the US relationship with cannabis, recently, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration proposed reclassifying cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug, which would place it nationwide along with medications like ketamine and Tylenol with codeine.