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Cannabis Cultivation ‘Giant Experiment’ Underway In Calaveras

San Andreas, CA — A stunning and — for many — scary upsurge in interest to contribute to the Calaveras economy via cannabis cultivation gained a measure of containment at 4 p.m. Thursday.

With the well-broadcasted, emphasized deadline for medical cannabis cultivators in Calaveras County to file paperwork as the first step in establishing their grows as legal now passed, county officials can settle down to process the deluge of applications.

County Planning Director Peter Maurer estimated on Thursday that by close of business his department would likely wind up with around 800 personal, caregiver and commercial applications to review over the coming weeks and months ahead. So far, he says nearly three-quarters are from commercial growers, adding that the figure is about two to four times what county officials earlier thought.

Calaveras Effort Considered A ‘First’

Of the state’s 58 counties, Maurer estimates, “There is about a dozen or so that are going to allow some level of cultivation. I have talked to my colleagues in some of those counties and we are the first one to try something like this, so it is a giant experiment.” He projects it will take months to complete the application reviews and that next week his department will begin scheduling appointments with the many who submitted applications too close to the deadline for staff to initially review for completeness.

First order steps, according to Maurer, “We are looking to make sure that all the documentation that is required is submitted…the signatures match up…that they have a complete submittal. That is all we are really doing at this point in time, and that is what we will do next week with those who just dropped off their packet without going over it with us.” He estimates that it takes 20 minutes to an hour to go over the initial submission of each application, just to make sure that it has all the necessary components attached.

Two recent hires have augmented Planning Department staff for the purpose of processing the paperwork, which are being funded from the application fees: $100 for personal medical growers; $200 for caregivers; $5,000 for commercial growers. Maurer has a meeting slated with county administration next week, he says, to discuss adding more staff members to fuel the effort.

Scrutinizing For Compliance

Some of the applicants, according to Maurer, have several sets; one for each parcel on which they are planning medical cannabis cultivation operations. Further detailing the process, he explains, “We will be comparing their site plan with our aerial photography, zoning, all the other documentation that they provided [to determine], is it legitimate, is it accurate.” Under the commercial license, medical cannabis growers are allowed up to 22,000 square feet. Maurer shares that most of the applications his department has seen seem to be at the upper end of the range, between 10,000-22,000 square feet.

Looking back on the rationale for the urgency ordinance, Maurer recalls, “We knew that there was quite a bit of cultivation going on, and when the word got out that the county was going to allow commercial cultivation and register it, there was literally a land rush —  in combination with the Butte Fire and people [owning land there] deciding that they did not want to rebuild and putting their land up for sale — it was snapped up by growers very quickly.” Pragmatically, he states, “[The urgency regulation ordinance passed by the county] was an attempt to rein that in and come up with some standards — some rules and regulations in place — until we had the chance to adopt a permanent ordinance and identify mitigation measures that we could apply to these cultivation sites.”

Addressing concerns of residents over potentially sketchy neighbor activities as the county works to distinguish the good actors from the bad in what is seemingly bucking to become its leading industry, Maurer advises, “If they have a complaint, call the Sheriff’s Office or call the Code Enforcement Department and file that complaint — let us know what is going on.” For wannabe growers who were unable to become compliant enough to apply, Maurer offers, “Depending on the outcome of the initiative that…will be on the November ballot, or the final permit ordinance that will be adopted next year sometime, there will an opportunity for them to possibly grow in the future.”

In Other Related News

For cannabis-related activities of concern the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Enforcement Unit announced that it has set up a dedicated tip line at (209) 754-6870. If using the service to make a report, law enforcement officials request that callers leave the following details: the reason for the call; the address of a good description of the location in question; and — if you want an investigator to personally contact you — your name and phone number.

In other cannabis cultivation-related news, a few days ago the County Elections Office certified the sufficiency of a cannabis regulation initiative, which clears the way for it to go before the Board of Supervisors at their July 12 meeting.

At that time, as previously reported, the board will have the option to either adopt it, as is, by a four-fifths majority, or call for it that day to be placed on the November ballot. In a tandem move, the board will likely instruct County Elections Official Clerk-Recorder Rebecca Turner to place a recently introduced temporary commercial cannabis excise tax measure (reported here) on the ballot, which calculates twice-yearly taxes due based on the canopy size of growers’ cultivation spaces.

Of note, Clarke Broadcasting asked Maurer about the recreational marijuana initiative that is among the statewide initiatives headed to the fall ballot. While it would allow adults 21 and over to buy an ounce of marijuana and marijuana-infused products at licensed retail outlets and also to grow up to six pot plants for personal recreational use, Maurer maintains that the county ordinance would require that any such personal grows must also be registered with the county to be considered legal.