Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio told a standing-room-only crowd in Mountain Ranch last week that he will not be able to provide enforcement and protection to legal growers of marijuana during the harvest season this year.

“It will be better next year, but we’re going to have a hard time this year,” he said.

DiBasilio spoke Thursday at a town hall meeting organized by the Mountain Ranch Community Club. He was joined by Calaveras Cannabis Alliance Executive Director Caslin Tomaszewski.

DiBasilio, citing as an example the October 2015 triple slaying that followed an attempted medical cannabis theft in Rail Road Flat, said he doesn’t have enough money or time to hire and train deputies to provide protection this year.

DiBasilio told the audience that while $3.7 million has been received by the county Planning Department for the cannabis registration program, “only part of those funds go for enforcement of registered growers.”

“My intent is to make this project as good as it can be. I will tell you that we will deal with the sites that get the most complaints, first,” he said.

DiBasilio encouraged concerned residents to use the emergency cannabis hotline recently set up by the Sheriff’s Office. That phone number is 745-6870.

“If someone is walking around with a gun, we need to know about it and I can check it out, but you’ve got to tell us,” he said.

He said the education and job training required for a deputy candidate stretches the time when a new hire will be ready for service. The sheriff’s academy is a six-month program, which is followed by another eight months of on-the-job training.

A member of the audience asked if a 10-minute response time for a sheriff’s deputy to arrive at the scene of a phone call was possible. “I’ll be honest. We can’t respond to a call in 10 minutes or less now. I’ve got three guys. We’re going to do our best,” he said.

DiBasilio said that by harvest season in 2017, his department should be able to provide the enforcement and protection the county needs.

“Basically I’m short about 20 guys and it will take $3 million to fix that,” he said. “So it is critical that the tax measure on the ballot passes.”

That tax measure, Measure C, was placed on the November ballot by the Board of Supervisors. If approved by voters, the tax on legal cannabis farming could generate between $12 million and $20 million annually for the county’s general fund, according to industry experts. The money would not be restricted to spending on registered growers and the board would make decisions on where it goes.

Later in the evening, Tomaszewski told an Enterprise reporter that he agreed with DiBasilio. “This is a long game for us. We’re working toward next year,” he said. “We’re going to work closely with the Sheriff’s Office and we have some ideas to explore, like establishing a neighborhood watch system.”

“But moving forward, we are very big on the tax measure,” he said. “What we want is plain and simple. We want to pay to get the bad guys out, so tax us to get it done.” He said the criminal element and those who want to avoid legal status will eventually move away to counties that don’t have an established bureaucracy and funding like Calaveras.

“If we’re going to have marijuana in the county, then we damn well better have a tax because that’s the only way we can combat it,” said DiBasilio.

Tomaszewski said he came to Calaveras County from Humboldt County 18 months ago because, “This was a chance to get it right, to become respected members of a community and to contribute to it. Humboldt has years and years of black market economics and it’s hard to get people away from that.”

He said CCA directors and members have worked with the county to create and pass the urgency ordinance and have given their support for the tax measure as part of their efforts to become legitimate farmers.

Tomaszewski and DiBasilio also agreed that a proposed ban on cannabis cultivation would be difficult to enforce.

“Over and over again, what we’ve seen is the ban scenario doesn’t work,” said Tomaszewski. “If you ban it, you still need the funds to make the ban work. Where will they come from?”

DiBasilio said a ban will not remove the unregistered growers who present a problem to the community.

“If we ban this stuff, they are not going anywhere and they know damn well we can’t get to them,” he said.

He said if anyone has a valid plan to ban marijuana and provide funding for enforcement, “I’d like you to come to my office and explain it. I’ll give you all the time you need.”

The audience Thursday filled the tightly-packed seats and lined the walls to see the unusual pairing of speakers: the county’s top enforcement official and the executive director of the cannabis industry organization.

DiBasilio spoke first on his own, as everyone waited for a tardy Tomaszewski. He spoke aggressively about the presence of cannabis farming in the county and added: “From a law enforcement perspective and as directed by the Board of Supervisors, I have to deal with it. Doesn’t mean I like it, but it’s a fact of life.”

“Unfortunately for our county this not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when,’” he said. He cited more than 25 years of marijuana farming in Calaveras County that is now out in the open, thanks to state legislation that legalized medical cannabis beginning in 1996 and will come into its own with a statewide bureaucracy in 2018.

“As it stands, I don’t have the funds to combat the problems I see ahead,” he said.

Tomaszewski had arrived and was standing off to the side in his signature red and black plaid shirt. He was called to the stage by members of the audience, and he was nodding his head in agreement with the sheriff.

During initial presentations and during the question-and-answer session, the men appeared to be comfortable with each other and agreed more often than not. They strongly agreed that the cannabis industry is now a fact of life in Calaveras County, and it needs regulation, enforcement and taxation.

“If we’re going to have marijuana in the county, we damn well better have a registration system and a tax system to pay for enforcement,” said DiBasilio.

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