A group of Calaveras County residents recently filed a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors over its new cannabis cultivation ordinance, which was adopted in late October.
Represented by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, an environmental law firm, plaintiffs Calaveras Residents Against Commercial Marijuana (CRACM) are alleging that the county unlawfully approved an Addendum to an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared for a “previous unrelated and unadopted ordinance” for the new set of regulations.
That EIR, according to the group, failed to “adequately disclose, analyze, or mitigate” the new ordinance’s significant environmental impacts and the “threats it poses to Calaveras County, its residents and visitors.”
“By approving the (ordinance) without lawful environmental review, the county has opened its doors to a flood of marijuana cultivation and the disastrous environmental impacts that come with it,” said Amy Bricker, attorney with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, as quoted in a Dec. 4 press release.
The release goes on to argue that the increase in the maximum allowable cultivation area of 43,560 square feet will lead to a plethora of impacts, citing damage to sensitive plant and animal species, skunk-like odors, contaminated water from chemical use, depletion of groundwater supplies and increases in traffic and crime associated with marijuana activities.
According to CRACM, the county is less safe due to the Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney being removed from the background check process for growers and seasonal workers.
Additionally, the group expressed concerns with certain violations of marijuana regulations being downgraded from misdemeanors to infractions.
The lawsuit arises from the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors “having ignored the pleas of its department heads, business owners, pastors, parents, grandparents, physicians and teachers to protect our beautiful pristine county and having forged ahead without regard to California environmental law and regulations and public safety of all who live here ...” the release states. “CRACM was left with no choice but to challenge the (ordinance) and ask the court to require that the county consider alternatives and adequately disclose, analyze, and mitigate the significant environmental impacts resulting from (the ordinance). CRACM urges the county to ... make an informed decision that reduces impacts to public safety from marijuana-related crime and preserves the quiet, peace and rural beauty of the county and its natural landscape.”
The county has yet to receive any applications for the cannabis program, as they cannot be submitted until fees become effective on Dec. 21, under the ordinance’s provisions, according to Planning Director Peter Maurer. Whether the county starts accepting applications on Dec. 23 (the closest business day) will depend on whether the new Cannabis Control Department has all application forms and requirements prepared, he added.
The board will revisit the discussion over the new department's budget on Dec. 10.
As for the status of an unrelated $16.3 million lawsuit filed in August of 2018 against the county for recovery of commercial cannabis cultivation taxes and fees under its 2016 program, the board will also vote on an item on Dec. 10 to increase a budget with law firm Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, PC by $120,000 to a total not-to-exceed amount of $170,000 for ongoing representation in the case.
Although the case has not been set for trial, County Counsel “wishes to continue to associate with Colantuono for the purposes of handling this case through trial, if need be,” according to the item summary.
The next case management conference is set for March 18, 2020.