Voters Tuesday made it clear that the future of Calaveras County’s legal cannabis industry is at least in doubt, if not in dire jeopardy.
Voters defeated Measure D, which would have set permanent regulations for the industry, by a margin of 54.16 percent no to 45.84 percent yes and also removed from office Supervisors Cliff Edson and Steve Kearney, both of whom supported regulating the industry. They will be replaced, respectively, by Gary Tofanelli and Clyde Clapp, both critics of Measure D and of the urgency ordinance that currently regulates the cannabis industry.
Supervisor-elect Dennis Mills, an opponent of Measure D, said voters want a change in the county government’s approach to the marijuana industry.
“Something else has to happen,” Mills said. “The voters are rejecting what’s there now and the ones (on the Board of Supervisors) who voted for what’s there now.”
Voters did give strong approval to the Measure C cannabis industry tax that was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors. It passed by a margin of 67.47 percent yes to 32.53 percent no. Whether the tax – estimated to yield $10 million or more a year in tax revenue for the county – is ever collected is another question. That depends on whether supervisors and voters continue to allow a legal, regulated cannabis industry to exist.
The marijuana industry regulation in effect now is an urgency ordinance similar to Measure D that the Board of Supervisors approved on May 10. Come January, all four of the supervisors who voted in favor of the urgency ordinance (Edson, Kearny, Chris Wright and Debbie Ponte) will be gone, replaced in three out
of four cases by newcomers critical of it. The sole continuing board member will be Michael Oliveira, who said he voted against the urgency ordinance because it did not give law enforcement sufficient power to crack down on violations by marijuana growers.
Ponte and Wright both decided not to seek new terms. Mills was elected in the June primary to succeed Ponte. Jack Garamendi ran unopposed to replace Wright. Garamendi, whose District 2 has the highest concentration of cannabis farms, is now the sole supervisor-to-be who has voiced support for having a legal, regulated cannabis industry.
Edson and Kearney may have voted for the urgency ordinance, but they opposed Measure D. They said they believed the Board of Supervisors should go through the painstaking process of crafting a permanent regulation that would address all the concerns of residents and officials. That process was expected to take at least a year, in part because of the environmental studies required. They had intended to keep the urgency ordinance in place until they crafted a permanent solution.
Calaveras Cannabis Alliance President Caslin Tomaszewski also supported the effort to have the board craft a permanent ordinance. In the end, however, he said that simply took too long at a time when a land rush early this year by new would-be growers undermined years of efforts by long-time growers to foster positive relations between the grower and nongrower communities.
“Carrying the conversation forward will obviously be more difficult than it has been,” Tomaszewski said of the incoming board and his efforts to promote the idea that the industry should be legal and regulated. Still, he extended an invitation to all the new board members, “Get to know the industry. Come out, get to know our families.”
Tomaszewski said things might have been different if the Board of Supervisors had been able to move more quickly on a cannabis regulation and head off the land rush that happened in late 2015 and early 2016. The Butte Fire contributed to the problem by depressing property values and creating a new group of willing sellers just as new state laws created a path toward legal, regulated cannabis production. “That has led to a lot of issues,” Tomaszewski said.
He said harvest season also hurt the cause of those seeking to grow legally. “At this time of the year, we are all working. It is always tough to get growers out to vote.”
Although the text of the measure primarily addresses issues such as zoning for cannabis businesses and rules for things like setbacks, fencing and noise, opponents cast it as a referendum on whether the industry should be allowed to exist. Many of those who campaigned against Measure D are also supporters of an initiative to ban commercial cannabis production that could be on a ballot as early as May of 2017.
Proponents, in contrast, saw Measure D as the best hope to regulate the county’s hundreds of marijuana farms. Measure D, unlike the temporary urgency ordinance currently regulating cannabis farms, makes no use of the word “medical.” Proponents said that was done so that the rules would still have applied to farms that grow recreational marijuana. Recreational marijuana, too, is now legal in the state after California voters on Tuesday approved Proposition 64 by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent. Proposition 64 was not popular in Calaveras where it received support from only 46 percent of voters.
The bitter divide between the two campaigns was reflected in the comments of voters exiting polling places on Tuesday.
“I am totally against cannabis cultivation other than for medicinal purposes,” said Brian Bates, 72, of Angels Camp. “I think it will bring too much distraction to the county.” Bates said that he particularly sees widespread commercial cannabis production as a threat to the “safety for the kids.”
Jerry McKay, 61, of Angels Camp, in contrast, voted yes on Measure D. He compares those who want to ban marijuana to advocates of alcohol prohibition in the 1920s.
“People need to get over this thing about marijuana. They are not going to stop it from being grown. They need to grow up and get over it,” McKay said of those who seek to ban the industry.
Some voters took intermediate positions, favoring regulation of medical marijuana but not complete legalization.
Robin Roberts, a truck drive from San Andreas who voted for Trump, split his vote on the marijuana measures at the county library in San Andreas. He voted yes on Measure D, but no on Proposition 64.
“I don’t think it should be recreational,” he said. “I’m a truck driver; we have enough crazies on the road.”
Some Measure D opponents say they simply don’t want the industry in the county.
“Primarily because I am concerned about the population that would be brought here,” said Pamela Moore, 58, of Angels Camp. “I don’t think they are looking to make a home.”
Moore said she is also concerned that the industry will be a negative influence on local families. “I don’t like it being so prominent and available to our youth,” she said.
Former Calaveras County Supervisor Tom Tryon, a rancher who is seeking to register a cannabis farm, said he voted for Measure D even though he would prefer full legalization without any requirement that growers register. Tryon, a libertarian, said he voted for Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson.
Matt McCloskey, 30, a San Andreas handyman, shares Tryon’s libertarian bent. McCloskey said he voted for Johnson. “I’ve been a registered Libertarian since I was 18; it was definitely the best option for voting this time.”
Like Tryon, McCloskey also split his vote on the local cannabis measures, voting no on Measure C and yes on Measure D. “I voted against Measure C (taxing local growers) because it was written by the Board of Supervisors,” he said. “I voted for yes on D because it all needs to be regulated. People need to respect their neighbors.”
That’s not how a majority of Calaveras County voters see the matter, however, said Vicky Reinke, an organizer and leader in the No on D campaign.
“The people of Calaveras County do not want commercial marijuana here,” she said after learning that D was failing late Tuesday.
Reinke noted that the No on D campaign was victorious despite being outspent by roughly 17-to-1 by the Yes on D effort.
“Money doesn’t necessarily win in a small community,” she said.