I feel obligated to respond to your recent article about Barden Stevenot and his philanthropic efforts to protect Calaveras County.

At 48, a husband, father and law enforcement professional, I do have a vested interest in the issue of marijuana cultivation and how it will transform the county.

While it is admirable he was once a sergeant for the Angels Camp Police Department, I’m just not seeing the relevant connection between his experiences in law enforcement 50 years ago and what we as a community face today.

We should start by examining what our neighboring counties have decided is best. San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Amador counties have all implemented cultivation bans. Are we to believe that the stellar leadership in our county is so far ahead of the curve, so much more progressive, that they have successfully bestowed upon us their political prowess by allowing and encouraging cultivation? If marijuana cultivation is our Board of Supervisors’ idea of how to answer the financial woes of this county, I will suggest that they are unfit to hold the positions they are in.

The reality is that many large-scale community issues are directly related to marijuana cultivation. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported on the recent fires that were started by dope growers, to include the fire on July 2 that shut down the majority of businesses in Angels Camp on one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year.

Stevenot makes reference to County Counsel Megan Stedtfeld’s efforts to adopt local ordinances that regulate commercial cultivation. The reality is that along with those willing to fork over $5,000 to become regulated, there are many more who have flocked to our county to grow marijuana without registering. How many of the hundreds of “legitimate” grows have been inspected by county officials since they stepped into their newfound wealth?

From a public safety standpoint, all of this is a disaster for the people who live here that aren’t part of the marijuana culture. From the triple homicide in Rail Road Flat to the sheriff reportedly admitting that harvest season will be a free-for-all, there are current problems, and problems ahead that our illustrious board of supervisors is complicit in.

Due to my current stint in law enforcement, I’ve seen firsthand the residual effects of marijuana cultivation: hazardous chemicals dumped, thousands of feet of irrigation drip line and other trash left as litter, wholesale clearing of land to make room for plants, property rights infringed and public safety compromised. I have seen the residual, unseen and in most cases unreported consequences related to drug abuse, including the abuse of marijuana. There is a mental health crisis in this country and the legitimization of mind-altering substances that mask the root issues is not the answer to fostering a healthy community.

The fact that Stevenot does not share the “belief” that people are flocking to our county to grow weed is probably one of the most blatant examples of how out of touch he is with current events. Big money is coming here and snatching up land to make bigger money growing weed.

And as to law enforcement exaggerating reports of weapons being brandished, I will share two examples that I’m aware of: A longtime resident and property owner was recently accosted on his own property by a group that included at least one pointing a gun at his face. They demanded to know what he was doing on his own property. Another rancher who leases land for his cattle was met with similar circumstances: people armed with firearms demanding to know what his intentions were. These stories were shared with me by the people who were directly involved in the incidents and both incidents occurred in the county and have nothing to do with my position in law enforcement. I would encourage Stevenot to spend a little time at the local coffee shop. He’d more than likely hear more stories. I read that the sheriff stated these incidents are rare. So are triple homicides, and yet they happen.

California is currently in its fifth year of severe drought. I take exception to these growers stealing water for their plants. I’m personally aware of this occurring in Angels Camp and other places in the county. The idea that the ordinance that Stevenot proposes will solve criminal and other acts involving weed cultivation such as murder, theft, litter, the ultimate decline of property values, vigilante attitudes due to poor planning and infrastructure requirements etc. is laughable and naive.

Finally, there is the issue of the sheriff’s department utilizing any of the proceeds from the permit fees. This may be more of a moral issue than anything, but it’s an issue nonetheless. This county is so eager to jump on the money train that it apparently has forgotten that under existing state and federal law, it’s illegal for anyone to make a profit providing medical marijuana. With the sheriff’s department’s willing acceptance of funding related to marijuana cultivation permit fees, the top cop has effectively placed himself in the position of violating his oath of office. I believe it’s a sad statement of how far we’ve fallen.

The pro-weed bunch has moved from a position of “We need medicine” to a position of “We bring money.” How much are we willing to compromise for the power of the almighty dollar? 

Todd Fordahl is chief of the Angels Camp Police Department. You can reach him at toddfordahl@icloud.com.

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