Proponents of regulating the marijuana industry Friday submitted a notice of intention to circulate a petition to the Calaveras County Elections Office.
The petition comes as the elected board of supervisors is scheduled on May 10 to reconsider a temporary ordinance to rein in the medical marijuana boom and its various impacts on the county.
Meanwhile, the planning commission on Thursday voted unanimously after five hours of discussion to urge supervisors to adopt an urgency ordinance that would ban any expansion in marijuana production until a permanent regulation is adopted. The commission also recommended that existing producers be allowed to continue production through this year’s harvest but that no new planting will be allowed until a permanent ordinance is adopted.
The language of the regulation proposed for a ballot measure is similar to that proposed by Calaveras County Planning Department staff but not yet reviewed for adoption by the Calaveras County Planning Commission or the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors.
The petition comes amid a complex public debate in which some factions have argued for a total ban on marijuana production while most interest groups have focused on details of when and how regulations should be imposed.
Supervisors on April 12 rejected a temporary urgency ordinance but on April 26 decided they will consider it again. Initially, they had hoped to do so this week. But it was not possible to post a revised urgency ordinance in order to meet the deadline required by California’s open meeting law, according to Diane Severud, the clerk to the board. Supervisors on Monday announced the urgency ordinance will be the first item on their May 10 agenda.
On April 12, several supervisors said they would consider a total ban on commercial marijuana production. Planning Commissioner David Tunno on Thursday urged his colleagues on that body to recommend a ban but did not find support.
In the weeks since April 12, representatives of a variety of interest groups have argued that a total ban would be expensive, if not impossible, to enforce and would damage the county economy. They argued that the county will have more capacity to limit the impacts of marijuana if it can charge the farmers fees to cover the costs of regulation.
County staff members had recommended the temporary urgency ordinance because they estimate it will take six months to a year to complete environmental studies needed to adopt a permanent ordinance. Among the recommendations the planning commission adopted Thursday was that the county create a task force to speed the preparation of a permanent ordinance.
It remains to be seen what affect either the proposed ballot measure or the planning commission recommendations will have on the board of supervisors deliberations on May 10. Regulation proponents face challenging deadlines if they wish to get their initiative before voters this year.
Calaveras County Clerk-Recorder Rebecca Turner said that proponents would have to gather 1,571 valid signatures by June 1 in order to place the measure on the November General Election ballot. She said that is the stated goal of the proponents.
That could leave just a few weeks to gather signatures, since it could take up to 15 days for the Calaveras County Counsel’s office to prepare the title and summary of the measure that is required for the petition signature forms.
The five proponents of the initiative petition are businessman Barden Stevenot; former Calaveras County Supervisor Merita Callaway; Dr. Rodger Orman, a physician who resides in Murphys; River Klass, owner of Grounds and Firewood restaurants in Murphys; and Gary Hauer, owner of Ace Hardware in Arnold.
At such time that proponents get enough signatures, then the board of supervisors can either put it on the ballot for a vote or, if it chooses, adopt the measure.
There are some differences between the proposed measure and the draft originally proposed by county staff. For one thing, the term “medical” has been removed from the proposed ballot measure. That would mean the measure would still be valid in the event that non-medical use and production of marijuana becomes legal in California. Also, the measure uses the term “cannabis” rather than “marijuana.”
The proposed ordinance would, upon the date of adoption, grant a 90-day period during which existing marijuana producers could register. After that, it would impose a two-year moratorium before the county could issue permits for any additional producers.
Several members of the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors have said they would prefer that voters, rather than the supervisors, make the decision on how to regulate marijuana.
Yet an initiative, if it gets enough signatures, would actually make it easier for supervisors to adopt such an ordinance. That’s because California law exempts voter-approved land-use initiatives from the California Environmental Quality Act review requirements. And several courts, including one in Tuolumne County in 2014, have held that the CEQA exemption applies even if supervisors choose to adopt the measure directly, without an election.