To: Hon. Board of Supervisors of Calaveras County
From: Barden Stevenot
Dear Sirs and Mme.,
I urge you to take up the responsibility you have been given as elected officials and immediately pass an urgent ordinance to limit unregulated expansion of the marijuana growing industry in Calaveras County. The regulations proposed in the original circulated ordinance appear to both protect neighbors and historic property owners from nuisance and give structure to the growers. The urgent ordinance should incorporate these original regulations and restrict any noncompliant property, but not be limited to previous grows. Backdating an ordinance will create unnecessary problems with two classes of growers and vastly more complicated enforcement.
Further to the above, a tax measure should be placed on the November ballot seeking voter approval to tax the growers. (Estimates suggest county revenue between $6 million and $10 million per annum.) A 50 percent voter approval will pass the measure if tax monies are directed to the General Fund. This will enable the board to direct the monies, as needed, first to law enforcement and compliance, and then to other county needs such as underfunded infrastructure and growing pension obligations.
Your current stalemate is deleterious to the welfare of the county and delay only compounds the situation. Without resolution both the old residents and the growers lose their respective rights and the county loses taxes. After several false starts toward sensible regulation it is time to regulate, tax and reduce the chaos.
Regulation, not banning, is the only logical economic and social solution. Banning would be disastrous for employment and harms the general economy of the county. It would add to the county deficit with an unfunded obligation to police and attempt to remove any resistant element, as the more progressive growers may close up and move elsewhere, leaving others to challenge the system, legally or otherwise. Banning will reduce incomes to many peripheral businesses, and, in all likelihood, add more empty storefronts to numerous venues in the county.
Current estimates are that the grower industry directly employs, or will employ, around 2,000. In agriculture, for every base job, one and a half jobs are supported elsewhere in the community. That means there are roughly 5,000 jobs in Calaveras County supported by this base industry.
Annual agricultural production in Calaveras County, excluding marijuana growing, is roughly $30 million; industrial production including winemaking and all other sources is roughly $100 million. The current estimate of gross value for this year’s cannabis crop by some knowledgeable people is $350 million.
Who or what could you possibly imagine will replace this? Logging is reduced, gold-mining and cement production are gone and we have an economy that relies too much on government employment (the largest employer) and outside retirement income from some of us soon to occupy Boot Hill (Politely stated: “An aging and declining population.”)
Most of the growers seem to be enterprising people, independent and creative, with the new energy we have historically welcomed. Many have families and some are of local origin. Let’s just tax their medical marijuana growing and let them pay for their own regulation enforcement.
Finally, if you think you are alone in this subject, there is a bill, working its way through Congress with bipartisan support, called CARERS. This bill provides legal banking, medical marijuana prescriptions for veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs and a reduction of the drug classification of marijuana, enabling further research into medical applications. The provisions of the bill will only apply in the 24 states that have legalized medical marijuana. This is a states’ rights bill supported by conservatives as well as others and passage looks likely. (Of the 24 states that have legalized medical marijuana, 14 have Republican governors and presumably lead conservative state governments. The medical benefits must be apparent to them.)
I grew up in an era when jobs were everything and I have been fortunate enough to be instrumental in creating jobs at home in Calaveras County in the wine industry, the golf industry and mining. All of these projects together, and their enduring jobs, do not have the economic weight and job creation of this industry. I urge you to take the hard road to regulation and prosperity not the short road to banning and employment loss.
Let’s remember the underfunded county treasury, the persistent lack of local employment, and county governance mistakes of the past. This time let’s get it right.
Barden Stevenot is a lifelong Calaveras County resident. He pioneered the wine tourism industry in Calaveras County and was instrumental in the development of Greenhorn Creek in Angels Camp. He was also in the mining industry in Calaveras County.