In an unexpected move during the final ten minutes of three-day-long budget hearings, the Calaveras County Board of Directors instructed County Counsel to provide appropriate resolutions for the alternative ways a vote on legalizing cannabis cultivation or sale could be put to a countywide vote in the November elections. Without any mention of this topic on the meeting agenda, District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills raised the idea late in the afternoon Thursday, immediately after Public Comment was closed.
The only reason Mills offered for this apparent reversal of his prior position was expressed in his introductory statement: “Considering the county’s situation right now with what I would call its very divisive nature, I know in the past, supervisors have asked to bring something to the voters. I would like to poll the board as to whether they would like to see an advisory measure come before the voters for the purpose of determining whether or not the ban ordinance that is in place right now is what this county really wants, and to instruct staff to prepare that for the ballot in November.”
What followed was a brief discussion as to whether the proposed ballot measure would be legislatively binding or simply advisory that was interrupted on a number of occasions by County Counsel on the grounds that the extent of any discussion of the topic could be considered improper since the subject had not been put on the agenda. The board then voted 4-1 to direct staff to bring back an item from the February 13 agenda, which had proposed putting cannabis on the June ballot as either a binding or advisory measure. During that February meeting, District 3 Supervisor Michael Oliveira was the only board member who stated he had any interest in pursuing either alternative. No motion was made at that time to place the issue on the June ballot.
Oliveira stated yesterday that he would be “supportive” of pursuing a public vote in November.
“I’ve tried four times before this very board to get (cannabis) to the vote of the people,” said Oliveira. “But I have questions with (any vote) being advisory. I would like to see it have substantiated effects, remove advisory and just put it on the ballot. But I would support the request because, all along, I have believed that the people should have the opportunity to vote on this.”
District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi was the only board member who did not support instructing County Counsel to present the alternatives for putting this issue on the November ballot.
“I get it, this is an election year. I don’t think putting something on the ballot is going to reach your goal, Dennis, of uniting the county. I think it is divisive,” said Garemendi. “I think it’s a superb political tactic to motivate people to come to the vote. But let’s be honest: I have sat with you here for 18 months discussing cannabis. If, suddenly, the population came out and said, ‘Yes we want it,’ I don’t think that you would change your position. You have been very hard in your position and consistent. Therefore, I think an advisory initiative would be a big distraction and a waste of county resources, and I do not support it.”
If a measure is approved for the November ballot, whether advisory or mandatory, it would share that ballot with two of the current supervisors (Oliveira and Clapp) and possibly a third if the Mills recall initiative is approved for the ballot, or even a fourth if a Toffanelli recall drive is completed and approved.
That means there could be a newly elected majority on the Board of Supervisors seated in 2019 whose freedom to make their own choices on cannabis would be circumscribed by a countywide vote—either completely if the measure was mandatory, or at the risk of offending the electorate if the vote was merely advisory.
Before the meeting adjourned , County Counsel stated that the item will be relayed to the elections office first and will be brought back to the Board “as soon as possible” as an agenda item. The next scheduled meeting of the Board is Tuesday, June 19.