San Jose entrepreneur pushes city to allow cannabis events
A trimmer in San Jose prepares cannabis buds for packaging in this file photo.

    A San Jose entrepreneur wants the city to expand its horizons and allow special events at museums, concerts and comedy clubs where adults can smoke, drink or eat cannabis products.

    Fernando Alvarez, founder of VaporTent Lounges, said the city is missing out on an economic policy he’s helped other California cities craft. One that allows organizers to host special events where people can sell and consume weed. He claims it could be a revenue boost for San Jose, but so far he hasn’t had any takers.

    Alvarez has successfully lobbied for cannabis policies in San Francisco and Oxnard and says he’s in talks with other cities, but he can’t get buy in from San Jose.

    “Why do I have to keep going outside my hometown to execute (this idea)?” Alvarez told San José Spotlight.

    Fernando Alvarez, founder of VaporTent Lounges, wants San Jose to take advantage of a state law that allows special events where adults can consume cannabis. Photo courtesy of Fernando Alvarez.

    Cannabis consumption in California has been legal since 2016. In September 2018, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2020, which made it legal for licensed cannabis event organizers to hold events at public or private venues.

    Cities still have a great deal of discretion in governing what kinds of cannabis activities are permissible, so Alvarez works with local officials to create policies that allow cannabis events. As an event organizer, Alvarez hopes to expand his own business by working with cities to approve these policies.

    San Francisco was the first city to create such a policy, and Alvarez sat on the task force that helped establish it. In 2019, cannabis delivery company Eaze sponsored an event at the music festival Outside Lands where attendees could purchase and consume cannabis.

    Alvarez said event organizers must show ahead of time that they’ll have security, on-site EMTs and age verification protocols. They also must ensure the event is blocked off and not visible to the public. Alvarez said he’s highlighted the regulated nature of these events in many discussions with San Jose officials over the years.

    “We can do these small-scale events, completely regulated, licensed by the state and insured. It would be this new tourism opportunity,” he said.

    Cannabis events up in the air

    In January 2019, San Jose Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Magdalena Carrasco wrote a memo containing several cannabis-related initiatives for the city to consider, including events. But it didn’t make the priority list for the 2019 calendar year.

    A representative for Peralez said he wasn’t available for comment. Carrasco’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Wendy Sollazzi, manager of San Jose’s division of cannabis regulation, said the city would need to take a comprehensive look at the types of events being considered including public safety issues, such as measures to prevent driving under the influence. There are also potential public health concerns, she added.

    “For decades, the city of San Jose has been a public health leader in preventing the second-hand consumption of tobacco and cannabis smoke,” Sollazzi said, noting that the City Council has previously taken positions against allowing smoking cannabis at city-owned venues.

    San Jose has spent years looking at ways to expand the city’s burgeoning cannabis industry, but it’s experienced setbacks. In 2019 the city made it a priority to look at allowing dispensaries to be located outside of industrial zones, making them more accessible. That proposal was tabled due to COVID-19 priorities.

    Sean Kali-rai, a cannabis lobbyist and founder of the Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance, said cannabis events could help rejuvenate the city’s legal weed industry.

    “I think we should be seriously looking at consumption lounges and these types of licensed, professional events in sanctioned areas,” Kali-rai told San José Spotlight. “Allow consenting adults to do what they voted for under Prop. 64.”

    Kali-Rai said some of the inertia around cannabis is due to San Jose being a predominantly suburban community.

    “We’re only an hour away from San Francisco, but the mindset is entirely different,” Kali-rai said. “It’s that general, conservative nature in San Jose that has made them move a little bit more hesitantly and be a little bit more cautious.”

    Like Alvarez, Kali-rai suggests dollars from cannabis tourism and events could help revitalize the downtown area. Some local business leaders have already tried to explore this idea.

    Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association, said his organization tried to organize a cannabis event at the 2020 Music in the Park Festival. Airfield Supply & Co. was going to sponsor the event, but the pandemic killed the plan. Knies told San José Spotlight it may take time to get the city to develop a policy, but it’s worth working on.

    “This is the right time when we should be having discussions with the police department, with the city, and figuring out how they can support this,” Knies said.

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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