Calaveras County voters on Nov. 8 will be asked to consider a ballot measure that proponents say will provide strong regulation of the cannabis cultivation industry. Opponents say it opens the door to full-scale legalization, with grow sites in residential areas and dispensaries on every corner.
Measure D qualified for the ballot in late June following a signature-gathering campaign that drew more than 3,300 signers. Approval in November would halt efforts directed by the Board of Supervisors and administered by the county Planning Department to establish regulation through a permanent county ordinance.
Right now, cannabis farms in the county are regulated under an urgency ordinance supervisors approved on May 10. Measure D, if approved, would supersede the urgency ordinance.
Such people’s initiatives take precedence over county ordinances and, once approved, cannot be changed except by votes of the people. Ordinances developed and approved by boards of supervisors do not have that restriction and can be changed at the will of the boards.
The group behind Measure D includes Bardon Stevenot, a retired business owner, Merita Callaway, former county supervisor, Howard Little, a retired businessman, Theodore Shannon, retired from the California Highway Patrol, and River Klass, a restaurant owner.
Stevenot said the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors is in flux and a new board that will take office in January may not continue development of the county’s ordinance.
District 2 supervisor Chris Wright did not stand for re-election and will be replaced by Jack Garamendi, who ran unopposed. District 4 supervisor Debbie Ponte also did not seek re-election and will be replaced by Calaveras County Water District director Dennis Mills, who won at the primary. District 1 supervisor and board chairman Cliff Edson faces a runoff in November with former District 1 supervisor Gary Tofanelli. The two were tied at the primary election. And in District 5, supervisor Steve Kearney faces a recall election. If voters choose to approve the recall, then one of four candidates will be elected to replace him.
Given this fluid mix of supervisorial politics, Stevenot says passage of Measure D “Offers stability and regulation and stops the unregulated growth of the cannabis industry in the county.”
The ordinance under development by the county addresses only medical marijuana. The medical cannabis industry will be regulated and controlled by a full-blown state agency in January 2018. In order to qualify for licensing by the state agency, growers must first be registered in their local jurisdictions.
Measure D drops reference to medical marijuana and would include regulation of both medical and recreational cannabis production. Also on the November ballot is Proposition 64, a statewide proposal that would legalize recreational marijuana.
Among the most vocal opponents of Measure D is Bill McManus, the leader of a group that tried and failed earlier this year to get enough valid signatures for a measure to ban all commercial cannabis production in Calaveras County. The group submitted more than enough signatures, but the county Elections Department cast them all out because the petition forms were formatted incorrectly.
The Committee to Ban Commercial Cultivation continues to seek signatures for a ban initiative. McManus said he hopes to gather enough to qualify the ban measure for a special election in early spring.
McManus said Measure D promotes full-scale legalization.
Callaway said Measure D does not promote full-scale legalization. She said that will come only if voters approve Prop. 64. She said Measure D only regulates registered Calaveras growers.
McManus claims Measure D reduces the sheriff’s ability to enforce cannabis laws.
Stevenot said the Sheriff’s Office and the county’s code enforcement staff “Have full authority to abate noncompliant growers under Mesure D.”
Sheriff Rick DiBasilio said Measure D fails to allow him to do background checks on workers at cannabis farms. He agrees that the measure allows background checks on the registrants, but says they are often absent and thorough background checks of all workers on cannabis operation are necessary.
Stevenot’s group commissioned an opinion on background checks by Abbot and Kindermann, a Sacramento law firm. In a report completed on Aug. 22, attorney Diane Kindermann concluded that Measure D “Would not permit background checks on anyone other than the land use permit applicant.” But she also wrote that the Board of Supervisors could expand background checks through the business licensing process for cannabis operations.
Kindermann also said the board could add a limit to the number of business licenses it issues, which would limit the number of cannabis operations.
McManus said Measure D expands locations for dispensaries and permits growing in the neighborhoods zoned RR, or rural residential.
Stevenot said that Measure D does not change the permitting procedures for regulating dispensaries. Those existing county rules limit dispensaries to sites zoned CP, or professional office. Measure D adds the M4 business park zoning as a permitted location for dispensaries. Those dispensaries would still be required to obtain the same administrative use permits already required by county code.
Stevenot said the rural residential zoning is something county officials created to allow housing in otherwise rural areas. Stevenot said Measure D sets two acres as the minimum parcel size for properties with cannabis farms. The measure also limits the size of the cultivation areas to 15 percent of the properties.
Measure D bans commercial cannabis farms from a number of zones, including the R1 single-family residential zone, R2 and R3 zones used for duplexes and apartments, respectively, the REC recreation zone and the PS public services zone, and the C1 and C2 commercial zones. Measure D would allow personal use noncommercial cannabis gardens in the R1 zone. Some testing, transportation and distribution businesses would be permitted in commercial zones.
McManus claims that Measure D allows transportation, testing, and distribution of marijuana and its products in Calaveras County.
Stevenot said Measure D includes language that is consistent the 2015 Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. That act allows testing, manufacturing and distribution. Measure D limits such businesses to commercial, industrial and business park zones except that manufacturing that does not use volatile solvents is allowed in some rural zones.
The current county urgency ordinance charges registrants a $5,000 fee. McManus said Measure D drops that in half after the first year.
At a public meeting in July, Callaway explained that while Measure D drops registration fees by half after the first year, the fees are not a tax, but represent the cost to the county for administering the program. She said Measure D permits the county to perform a fee study and the amount can be raised or lowered according to the actual cost to the county for running the program. State law prohibits public agencies from making profits on fees to perform public duties.
County supervisors in July voted to place another Cannabis-related measure, Measure C, on the November ballot. Voter approval would allow taxation of cannabis operations and the funds would go into the county general fund to be used at the direction of the board of supervisors.
County officials have estimated the taxes could bring as much as $12 million per year in revenue for the county.
McManus has claimed at various public venues that the proponents of Measure D asked the Board of Supervisors if Measure D proponents could withdraw the measure or amend it.
“That never happened,” said Stevenot. He said no proponent of Measure D asked that it be withdrawn from the ballot.
If passed in November, Measure D becomes county law 10 days later.