Joan Wilson, 59, stepped through the gate on her registered, fenced, signed 3,000-square-foot outdoor cannabis grow on 20 acres she owns with her husband outside Angels Camp and stood among brown, unharvested, shoulder-high potted plants.
A day after the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance to ban cultivation and commerce of cannabis, Wilson and her husband Bill Wilson said they will likely have to burn 25 to 30 pounds of pot they worked so hard to grow.
“We have to eradicate,” Bill Wilson, 67, said Thursday. “They allowed us to grow an illegal product and then blocked us from getting state licenses. Now we’re all faced with the question of where to sell our product. We might be able to sell under the co-op model, SB420, but I’m not a lawyer. Or go to the black market. A legal dispensary can’t buy from an unlicensed vendor.”
Bill Wilson has a heart condition and he and his wife use cannabis they grow to produce tinctures, pain creams and a cannabis-based sex lube. Last year Joan’s grow produced about 100 pounds of cannabis, her best harvest since she began growing medical marijuana here in 2011. But now, like hundreds of other registered growers in Calaveras County, she is unsure of what to expect next.
“I feel like I got lied to and cheated,” Joan Wilson said. “This board collected our taxes and then put in a ban. We’re poor. We’re part of CCA (Calaveras Cannabis Alliance) but affording a lawyer is out of the question.”
The ban takes effect 30 days from the date it passed, on Feb. 10, Timothy Lutz, the county administrative officer, said Thursday. Temporary permits issued under the urgency ordinance automatically terminate 90 days after Feb. 10.
Also Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors asked county staff to bring back two measures for the panel to consider for the June 5 election, one for a countywide ban on cannabis
cultivation and one for a regulatory ordinance.
The scope of any regulatory ordinance for the ballot measure still needs to be defined by the Board of Supervisors at a future meeting, Lutz said.
Miles away from the Wilsons’ rural residential zoned property, over winding roads that navigate numerous ridges and streambeds, several growers came to visit Rolling Hills Bookkeeping and a nearby office for the Calaveras Cannabis Legal Defense Fund on Mountain Ranch Road in San Andreas.
Dr. Prapanna Randall Smith, a licensed indoor cultivator who came to Calaveras County five years ago, came to donate $500 to the legal defense fund, which formed in the past six months.
“I tried to get the Board of Supervisors to pass a reasonable ordinance,” said Smith, who attended multiple cannabis hearings in San Andreas in recent months. “I brought in facts. Now I’m upset with Gary Tofanelli, because I put my hand out and he slapped it. He said, ‘No you can’t do business here.’”
Smith, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, said leadership is exactly what the county is lacking right now.
“My family tree goes back to the Mayflower and the beginning of this nation, and that’s why I’m so angry these ban people don’t want us here,” Smith said. “They’re so full of hate.”
Smith said he is consulting with his own attorney and they are considering options. He said he may have to bail out of Calaveras County. He’s been looking for new locations elsewhere but, he said, “everything is so unstable out there now.”
The county has launched a war against cannabis cultivators, and those who remain have no choice but to fight, Smith said. Any citizen would fight back against getting shut down.
Megan and Brett Gonsalves, co-owners of Rolling Hills Bookkeeping, represent about 160 clients who include 140 pot farms in Calaveras County.
“We’re going to lose a lot of business,” Brett Gonsalves said Thursday, sitting outside their office with clients. “Eighty-five percent of our business is in Calaveras County. So this ban is a bad decision all around. County revenues, what it does to legitimate businesses, the economic impacts.”
The Gonsalves helped prepare a report last year that showed cannabis cultivation contributed a total output of $339.2 million to the county economy in 2016.
The bookkeepers have not joined any legal actions yet, Brett Gonsalves said.
“We may have to,” he said. “We have to protect our family and our business.”
Megan Gonsalves estimated that in the past 24 hours she’d heard from more than 50 growers who are concerned about the way forward now. Impacts from the ban will include abandoned properties, layoffs and bankruptcies. But many growers are not giving up, Megan Gonsalves said.
“People are calling here and saying ‘This is what they did, now what do we need to do to protect our businesses?’” she said. “This did not come as a shock. We’ve been watching them kick the can for the past year. I was surprised Tofanelli dug his heels in so deep on 100 acres. Garamendi and Oliviera wanted 20-acre minimums. In any other ag business that’s reasonable.”
There are some pot farmers who are going to leave but the majority will stay and fight, Megan Gonsalves said.
“Our clients aren’t just names on paper,” she said. “They’re friends and family. This is a tight-knit community. Right after the Butte Fire so many of these people came together. They can do this again, even against a ban by two guys.”
Jason Hauer with the Calaveras Cannabis Legal Defense Fund met with multiple growers Wednesday and accepted cash donations from several. He met with members of the defense fund board of directors and they took part in a conference call with a lawyer to discuss strategy.
“This is not a fight that we wanted,” Hauer said. “This is all so unnecessary. So unthinkable. Calaveras County decided to shutter 500 local businesses, many of which have been operating in harmony with their neighbors in Calaveras for decades. It should be no surprise that many will fight for their family farms.”
Last month, two registered cannabis growers in Calaveras County, Andrew Greer, of Golden State Herb Inc., and Adam Ray, filed a class action claim for refunds of Measure C cannabis taxes against Calaveras County and the county tax collector-treasurer. Calaveras County Measure C was enacted Nov. 8, 2016.
Crystal Keesey with Eastside Environmental, who used to work on cannabis farm permitting projects in Calaveras County, said Thursday she expected to have more information about the growers’ class action filed by Oakland attorney William Panzer.
Bob Bowerman with Calaveras NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) said Thursday his group is urging all growers to join the class action headed up by Panzer.
In addition, Bowerman said, if the county puts a regulatory ordinance on the June ballot, Calaveras NORML will stand their regulation initiative down and support the one on the ballot.
“If the county doesn’t put their regulations on the ballot,” Bowerman said, “we will and they won’t be able to stop us. . . . We think the county needs to learn bait and switch is not OK and when they do it, it will be costly.”