For the first time in the 170-year history of the California State Fair, which is scheduled to open July 12 in Sacramento, visitors will be able to do something they haven’t been able to do there before — legally anyway. They will be able to purchase and consume cannabis on-site.

The plans, announced Tuesday by Embarc, the fair’s partner on the project, include having a dispensary and 30,000-square-foot outdoor consumption lounge space at Cal Expo that will allow fair-goers who are 21 and older (and in possession of a valid government-issued photo ID) to buy and try award-winning cannabis.

“When people come to the state fair, they can try the best wine, cheese and craft-brewed beer. That’s already in place,” California State Fair Chief Executive Tom Martinez told The Times. “This was just the natural next step that the legislature and our board of directors is taking.”

The first step came in 2022 when a cannabis exhibit and awards program were added to the fair lineup. It was a chance to showcase the once-demonized plant alongside the rest of the state’s agricultural bounty. “Over the last two years, we’ve had 160,000 people come through that educational exhibit,” Martinez said.

This time around, visitors to the exhibit hall filled with cannabis educational and farm displays will be able to scan QR codes next to displays of this year’s California State Fair Cannabis Award winners and add the goods to an online shopping cart. Then items can be purchased at the checkout at a dispensary just outside. Those who wish to partake can then navigate a few hundred feet farther away and get their smoke on.

Both the dispensary and consumption lounge will be run by Embarc, a Northern California company that’s carved out a niche in the cannabis event space. (The company has organized weed-themed events and spaces for the California Roots Festival and Outside Lands Music Festival, among others).

“‘Designated smoking area’ is the required terminology,” said Embarc’s Chief Executive and co-founder Lauren Carpenter. “But that makes it sound like people standing around outside of a building smoking. This is intended to be experiential and fully built out and produced with a stage where we will have a ceremony for our [cannabis] award winners. [And] right now, our theme is ‘oasis’ — because, in case you missed it, it’s really hot in Sacramento — and our intention is to make this a respite.”

How many visitors to the fair might avail themselves of the 500-person-capacity smoking lounge? “I’m prepared for anything,” Carpenter said. “But based on my back-of-the-napkin math and data from other events we’ve been involved with, we anticipate thousands and thousands of shoppers a day.”

Those thousands and thousands of potential shoppers will be able to shop some 300 different THC-containing products, including many of the 98 freshly crowned winners of 2024 California State Cannabis Awards.

Set to be announced June 26, the 49 silver and 49 gold medals will be awarded in three flower categories (sun-grown, mixed-light and indoor) and 16 product categories (new this year, they include things such as edibles, pre-rolls and concentrates).

In addition, nine “Best of California” Golden Bear awards will be announced at an Oscar-style ceremony scheduled to take place at the fair on July 27.

Know before you go

This year’s California State Fair runs from July 12 to 28. Daily hours for the dispensary and lounge, award winners and additional information will be posted to the 2024 California State Cannabis Awards website at as available.

If you’re planning to get fried in the land of deep-fried everything, there are a few things you’ll need to know: First, you’ll only be able to consume cannabis products purchased on-site. Second, the lounge will provide rolling papers and expects to have an assortment of other smoking paraphernalia to use, so leave your favorite smoking gear at home. And last, while the dispensary and lounge will be open for most of the fair’s run, there are three dates to be aware of: July 12 and 13 (no inhalable consumption will be allowed on those days) and July 19 when the dispensary will be closed.

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