The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted to ban commercial marijuana cultivation Wednesday, signaling the end of a program that permitted hundreds of growers and raised more than $10 million for the county budget.
“We had to go through the process,” said District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills, who supported a ban throughout. “When it was done, it made most sense to the board.”
The agreement concluded a marathon discussion following meetings late last year to consider a strict regulatory program. In the end, Gary Tofanelli, District 1, attempted to pass the regulatory plan, but it found no support.
The ban was then proposed by Tofanelli before he, Mills and District 5 Supervisor Clyde Clapp voted in the affirmative. Supervisors Jack Garamendi, District 2, and Michael Oliveira, District 3, opposed.
The ban signals the beginning of the end for a cannabis program that permitted more than 200, with others still pending, collected more than $3 million in fees and generated upward of $10 million in taxes that were used by the county in this year’s budget.
The ban will take effect in 30 days. Farmers will have 90 days from then to comply with the new rules.
The decision was met with vocal outcries, with one attendee screaming profanities at Tofanelli as he stormed out of the board chambers.
Outside, Bob Bowerman, of Calaveras National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said supervisors had opened the litigation floodgates. He was not shy about what he thought was going to come next.
“You can’t blame farmers for doing what they have to do legally,” said Bowerman, who added he plans to propose a citizens’ ordinance to regulate pot in the near future. “If you thought the green rush was going to be bad, wait for the lawyer rush.”
Trevor Wittke, executive director of the Calaveras Cannabis Alliance, affirmed the threat of lawsuits by farmers, though his organization has no official position on the matter. He said cultivators now have excess money available to sue, which would have otherwise been used for farming activities.
Trevor Wittke also said the lawsuits could inundate the county similarly to what occurred with the cannabis program. County officials were only able to certify about 200 of the original 700 applications since regulations went into effect in May of 2016.
People will likely sue for Ralph M. Brown Act violations, suspected misappropriations, election law infractions and even to recover monies paid into the cannabis tax since it was approved by law in 2016, Trevor Wittke said.
Beth Wittke, Trevor’s mother, questioned the fiscal responsibility and ethics in Wednesday’s decision. She said the county spent a lot of money, time and human capital preparing a regulatory document, only to ban.
“I wish they would have done it a year ago if they came in deciding to ban,” said Beth Wittke.
The son-mother pair plants to transition into vegetable farming. They won’t grow pot illegally, she said. If they wanted to operate on the black market, they would never have signed up for the county’s program two years ago, she added.
Prapanna Smith, one of nearly two dozen local farmers authorized to participate in the state’s cannabis program, declined to comment.
Others were relieved with the decision. Bill McManus, head of the Committee to Ban Commercial Marijuana, said the ban was not the “silver bullet” to fixing their problems, but it was a step in the right direction regarding the removal of the “anti authority” element in the county.
“With Proposition 64, the farmers can relocate elsewhere,” McManus said. “They can go somewhere else where they’re welcome.”
Before adjournment, the county agreed to work to submit separate documents that would regulate and ban cannabis for a June ballot to allow voters the opportunity to decide. The election would have to be called by the Calaveras County Elections Department before Feb. 21 to qualify for the June ballot.
“I sat here and listened to the citizens of the county, the board members and previous board members. We’ve done you a great injustice. We have taken away your ability to speak and vote,” said Oliveira. “We didn’t give you an opportunity to vote on it.”
In a final plea for reconsideration before the meeting ended, Garamendi implored his colleagues to reevaluate the decision. He said the regulatory plan, while strict in nature, was nearing a compromise.
His issue was with parcel sizes, a 100 acre minimum under the regulations discussed Wednesday. Oliveira said during deliberations he supported the plan recommended by the Calaveras County Planning Commission, which stipulated a 20 acre minimum for growing if the land did not neighbor a residential lot.
Indeed, the 100 acre mark would have priced many farmers out, as affirmed Wednesday. Though multiple farmers would be able to grow on a lot under a specific size, Bill Hand, a Calaveras pot farmer, said during public comment there were only 14 lots currently on the market for growers that fit the specifications in the proposed regulatory plan.
“We’re looking at turning the county on the fringe of being poor country to an even poorer county,” said Hand. “We make our money here legally. We spend money at the hardware store, grocery store and laundry store.”
Tofanelli, in response to the two supervisors who voted against the ban, said he had compromised enough. He said he was in support of a ban from the start, recalling initial campaign promises to that effect..
He moderated that position in meetings in October, December and again Wednesday, he said.
“I was a leader. I compromised,” said Tofanelli. “Even from my initial regulations a tremendous amount.”
If approved, the regulatory structure would have permitted outdoor farming activities on only large General Forestry, Agriculture 1, Agriculture Preserve and Unclassified zones. Calaveras County Planning Director Peter Maurer said last month 1,000 properties applied to the rules.
Indoor farming would have been restricted properties zoned for light industry and business parks.
Earlier in the day, an altercation between two people in the audience delayed proceedings for more than an hour.
Michael Falvey, of Mokelumne Hill, said Lori White, of Angels Camp, slapped him after a finger pointing sequence between the two during a brief break from deliberations.
Almost immediately after the incident, Tofanelli ordered the board chambers be cleared. Supervisors then went to lunch.
Outside where White and Falvey were interviewed by deputies, Falvey elected not to press charges.
White was freed to leave a short time later.