I believe that marijuana has medical benefits and I am loathe to deny anyone relief from pain or discomfort, particularly if it is associated with a terminal illness. I am less convinced that marijuana is a benign recreational drug that may be enjoyed without any adverse consequence. There is substantial anecdotal evidence to indicate that marijuana can be particularly harmful to teenagers and young adults. In some instances, habitual use has caused psychotic episodes even in those not predisposed to mental illness. “As Californians ponder whether to vote for Proposition 64, the November ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana for adult use, it’s important to own up to the fact that marijuana is not always the benign bud that many advocates would have us believe, particularly for teens and young adults, whose brains are still developing.” (Quoted from “Marijuana: A potent disruptor for young users,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 2, 2016.)

In California, 18-year-olds can get a medical marijuana card. Recreational use, if Proposition 64 passes, would be restricted to those over 21.

Unfortunately, because the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance in the same category as heroin with no medical benefit, there has been insufficient research into its effects, beneficial or otherwise. However, “The Justice Department announced in 2013 that the federal government would not interfere with state laws legalizing marijuana so long as local officials ensured that the drug was kept out of the hands of children, off the black market and away from federal property.” (“Ramifications of DEA’s Refusal to Reclassify Marijuana,” Newsmax.com, Aug. 12, 2016.)

If we are to allow cannabis cultivation in Calaveras County, we must face the unfortunate reality that as long as there is a black market for marijuana, it will attract criminal activity, which is not to imply that legal growers will break the law, but rather that legal growers may become the victims of crime. Hence, local cannabis cultivation will require not only regulatory enforcement, but it will also require protection of the legal growing sites from thieves.

The county currently has an urgency ordinance adopted by the Board of Supervisors on May 10, which regulates the cultivation of medical cannabis, pending adoption of a permanent ordinance within 10 months and 15 days of the urgency ordinance extension on June 21. The “ordinance will serve to protect the environment against unchecked growth of cannabis-related land use speculation in the county until an EIR (environmental impact report) is completed on the proposed permanent ordinance and its impacts duly mitigated.” (Urgency Ordinance, Section 3, California Environmental Quality Act.)

According to Planning Director Peter Maurer, the EIR consultants are “in the initial information gathering stage. A draft EIR is expected in early 2017.” According to the consultant’s contract, the EIR will “focus its analysis on the issue areas of aesthetics, biological resources, cultural resources, air quality (including odors)/greenhouse gases, hydrology and water quality, noise, land use/planning, and traffic.” I support the draft ordinance that will be subject to change based upon environmental impact mitigation measures identified in the final EIR.

Calaveras County voters in November will be given the opportunity to vote on Measure D, which would regulate cannabis cultivation but without the benefit of an EIR. The California Environmental Quality Act Guidelines in section 15378 (b) (4) state that the “submittal of proposals to a vote of the people” is not to be considered a “project” as defined by CEQA and therefore is not subject to the CEQA review process. Hence, Measure D is not subject to any environmental review under CEQA, let alone a full EIR. I will not be voting for Measure D, because if we are to have regulated cannabis cultivation in Calaveras County, I want a full review of the impacts on our local environment and the appropriate mitigation measures implemented.

I know supporters of Measure D are concerned that the new Board of Supervisors seated in January may fail to move forward with a permanent ordinance. Yes, that is a risk, but proceeding with regulated cannabis cultivation without any environmental review is also a risk. “The flipside of regulating and legalizing marijuana is that there will be an increase in investment – and, in turn, cultivation impacts – from marijuana. We may see substantial conversion of native habitats for marijuana cultivation going forward and state law will not be adequate to ensure that that land conversion protects sensitive habitat and sensitive species.” (“Mixed Results in CA Medical Marijuana Legislation,” Legal Planet, Sept. 25, 2015.)

There is also a contingent in Calaveras County that wants to ban cannabis cultivation with an exception for personal medicinal use. While I am sympathetic to their concerns for public health and safety, I believe the horse has left the barn. All we can hope to do now is build a corral big enough to contain a horse that is running wild. I don’t think that regulated cultivation of cannabis means we are facing either a landscape of gun-toting criminals and their attack dogs or an idyllic Acapulco Gold Rush that will be an economic boon for everyone. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.

Muriel Zeller is a poet, writer and Valley Springs resident. She is a member of the Calaveras Planning Coalition and former member of the board of directors for MyValleySprings.com. Contact her at murielzeller52@gmail.com.

Muriel Zeller is a poet, writer, and Valley Springs resident. Contact her at murielzeller52@gmail.com.

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