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Town Halls To Air Cannabis, Other Calaveras Issues

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San Andreas, CA — The district that houses far and away the majority of Calaveras County’s marijuana grows has launched a week-long series of town hall meetings.

District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi says he will have top county officials in tow, including Sheriff Rick DiBasilio, Planning Director Peter Maurer and Public Works Director Jeff Crovitz.

Following Tuesday night’s gathering at Mokelumne Hill Town Hall, two more will respectively take place Wednesday and Thursday night at the Mountain Ranch and West Point community halls. Slated to run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. all events include discussion on a range of hot topics within the county and district; among them include Butte Fire recovery, tree mortality and the local economy.

Garamendi adds since the ballots for May 2 special election on the Measure B commercial cannabis ban citizens’ initiative are due to hit the mail in less than two weeks, he was additionally asked to lead a separate community forum this week on the topic. Hosted by the Calaveras Senior Center, it will also take place at 1 p.m. Thursday (956 Mountain Ranch Road).

Face-to-face Time

A first-term supervisor who ran unopposed last fall after his predecessor Chris Wright decided not to seek a second term, Garamendi remains unfazed by this week’s near-marathon of community outreach. Amicably he comments, “It might be a high tech world, but we are still a face-to-face community in District 2 — they expect their leaders to show up and answer questions, as uncomfortable or comfortable as it can be — and I love my district.”

Regardless of whether the ban measure carries or residents choose to support regulated commercial cannabis cultivation, Garamendi says he — and hopefully the rest of the county supervisors — will abide by the will of the public. The legal cannabis farmers and residents among his constituents generally share a mounting concern over community safety and crime prevention, he says. Their main worry, he emphasizes, is that the county’s four other districts will “abandon” District 2, whose enforcement issues are further elevated because it contains the bulk of the county’s 700-plus currently registered grow operations as well as around double that amount of “bad guy” grows.

“[My constituents] are worried that without regulation, there is not going to be anyone to push the bad guys out…it is pretty easy to get rid of one or two growers in Rancho Calaveras or Valley Springs — but the scale of our problem in District 2 is profound,” he stresses. While he does not personally have a moral objection to cannabis, as he tersely puts it, “I do have a moral objection to violence.”

Last year’s post-Butte Fire land rush came coupled with Calaveras’ spreading reputation as a prime growing area — just ahead of the prior board’s move to instigate an urgency regulatory ordinance that included a moratorium to limit registrations. He evokes that, somewhat like the mounting “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” series, an overwhelming wave of growers engulfed the county. Some sought to legalize their grows; others schemed to “hide in the herd.” Many settled near or on District 2 turf: Calaveritas, Glencoe, Mokelumne Hill, Mountain Ranch, Paloma, Rail Road Flat, Sheep Ranch, West Point, Wilseyville and parts of San Andreas.

Can An Enforceable Ban Be Effectively Funded?

Personally, Garamendi sees supporting the ban initiative as a vote for an unregulated cannabis industry. “A ban, without funds associated with it, means very little. Ban supporters have yet to show how they will pay for it…I would say we are at the ‘show me the money’ stage,” he remarks.

Under the county’s present urgency ordinance and application process, he estimates that, through attrition, the county would wind up with about 500 legal growers who have gone through all the hoops, and whose registration fee and Measure C tax resources are needed to help weed out a thousand or more illegal growers who are not likely to leave of their own accord. Garamendi maintains, “We learned a lot last year about what works and what does not..we are part of this whole system that is going on and this much larger debate in our country and…state — we just happen to be the pointy part of the spear.”

Sheriff DiBasilio says he is being extremely careful not to guide voters. Either way, he says that dealing with marijuana cultivators is going to be a long-term issue. He notes that the county recently updated codes dealing with the eradication policy, shortening the appeals dates for illegal grows from 120 days to between 17 and 28 days. “It allows us to do eradications at a faster rate, as opposed to having to deal with all the appeals,” he explains. While the sheriff admits that his office is still dealing with getting enough personnel onboard, he also says his staff is certainly more prepared and seasoned this year.

Opining a bit over banning versus regulating, the sheriff states, “It is a pile of…quagmire, unfortunately. If they ban it we don’t know where the money is going to come from.” While a couple of the supervisors maintain they know where and how to tap the necessary funding to keep the marijuana team in place, he confides that has not yet heard anything reassuring yet in the way of details.

Without The Ballot A Ban Will Ensue

Three of the board’s five supervisors are actively pushing for a ban. Due to concerns over legal challenges due to wording in Measure B, they recently passed a motion directing that staff prepare a county ban to keep in the wings. Moving forward, as Garamendi outlines, “If the [Measure B] ban is struck down by a court, which seems likely, the  supervisors’ permanent ban ordinance — now being drafted that fully complies with state laws — will go into effect.”

Outlining another scenario with a similar outcome, he continues, “If the ballot does not happen, due to legal challenges [by Calaveras Naturals, owner of Big Trees Dispensary in Arnold], which is looking at a technicality in the Measure B writing…no election guarantees a ban at this point.”

Meanwhile, a board-appointed ad hoc committee consisting of Garamendi and District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills, who is one of three vocal ban proponents, is gathering information and community input. Garamendi says the effort has become a sort of dual track in the event that, post-election, the county moves towards regulation. Among the topics people are weighing in on are: light control, impact fees, appropriate parcel sizes and areas where zoning for cultivation should be. Should voters opt for regulation, the effort would evolve into a broad open conversation between the full board of supervisors and community.

“The community needs to recognize what a crossroads we are at,” Garamendi says. “On one side we have unregulated [cannabis] and on the other side we have regulated, and we really do not know what happens if we just say ‘no’.”

Either Way A Double-edged Outcome

While neither Garamendi of Sheriff DiBasilio will venture any sort of guess as to how the vote will turn out, the sheriff unabashedly maintains that if the ban fails, commercial marijuana needs to come out of the residential rural areas, where neighbor issues have effectively helped split the county. “The neighborhoods do not want it in their face,” he stresses. However, due to the county’s size and zoning limits, he concedes that there are not enough areas to accommodate every grower who might want to relocate, although not all would necessarily pass a background check.

Calling either outcome a double-edged sword, Sheriff DiBasilio laments, “Honestly, there is not a good answer to any of this…people are going to get financially…emotionally hurt. We are in a position that had been put upon us that we now have to just deal with the best way that we can. There is going to be lawsuits, no matter what happens.”

Another surety, according to the sheriff: the county is in for a whole lot of expense and hard work ahead. “I know it is going to take three to four years to clean up whether they ban it or they regulate it…and all I know is that I cannot do it without funding,” he states, matter-of-factly. Describing his department as underfunded for years and facing midyear cuts, he calls for the supervisors to make funding a priority in the interest of public safety. “We do not have the personnel to do the jobs we have to do now, not counting marijuana [enforcement].  They need to step up to the plate…so we can do the job.”