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Why did Calaveras board ban pot, then talk about putting the issue to voters?


Guy McCarthy / Union Democrat District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi, left, watches District 3 Supervisor Michael Oliveira, then the board chair, question District 5 Supervisor Clyde Clapp, right, in October about a letter he sent to the East Bay Municipal Utility District board warning of findings in a document distributed last week by District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills, in the dark tie and dark blazer.

The Calaveras County supervisor who asked for the issue of cannabis to be placed on ballots in June — after the Board of Supervisors had voted to ban it — said he did so because a board decision can be overturned by a simple board vote, whereas a decision by voters can only be changed by voters.

Supervisor Mike Oliveira, who voted against a ban, gave an impassioned speech Wednesday appealing to people in the audience, as well as trying to persuade his peers on the board, to let voters decide on the county’s most divisive issue.

The elected, five-member

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The Calaveras County supervisor who asked for the issue of cannabis to be placed on ballots in June — after the Board of Supervisors had voted to ban it — said he did so because a board decision can be overturned by a simple board vote, whereas a decision by voters can only be changed by voters.

Supervisor Mike Oliveira, who voted against a ban, gave an impassioned speech Wednesday appealing to people in the audience, as well as trying to persuade his peers on the board, to let voters decide on the county’s most divisive issue.

The elected, five-member board voted 3-2 to ban cannabis cultivation, with supervisors Gary Tofanelli, District 1; Dennis Mills, District 4; and Clyde Clapp, District 5; in favor, and Jack Garamendi, District 2; and Oliveira, District 3; opposed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve sat here and listened to you and we’ve done you a great injustice,” Oliveira said Wednesday. “We’ve still got your money. We talked about re-registration. Is that bait-and-switch? We didn’t give you an opportunity to vote on this. I want to propose an immediate moratorium from this moment until we can put this item on the June ballot with the ban and the regulation proposition. We can’t do this with five people. The only people who can fix this are you, the voters.”

Asked Friday about why the board adopted a ban and then he asked county staff to prepare ban and regulatory measures for the board to consider for June ballots, Oliveira began by emphasizing the board has not voted on putting anything to voters yet.

“It should come back to the board at a meeting after Jan. 16,” Oliveira said in a phone interview. “Hopefully we’ll be able to discuss whether to put the ban and the original regulatory ordinance proposed by planning commission, with a 20-acre minimum, on ballots.”

Asked if having voters decide on whether to ban or regulate commercial pot would provide any protection for the county from litigation, Oliveira said he wasn’t sure. But he had his reasons for wanting voters to decide.

“A decision by the board to pass, accept or modify ordinance can be changed by another vote of the board or a future board,” Oliveira said. “A decision by the vote of the people can only be changed by another vote of the people.”

Some growers have already hired lawyers and initiated legal proceedings against Calaveras County. Others are talking about it and seeking advice.

“There is litigation and I know that more litigation is coming,” Oliveira said. “We’re going to get sued. We don't know who’s going to sue or what they’re going to sue or why they’re going to sue. But we know it’s coming.”

Peter Maurer, the county planning director, said the board putting ban and regulatory choices to voters in June would not provide protection from litigation because a board-initiated measure would be a county-initiated measure. It would not be a voter-initiated measure.

Asked in October how much of the current county budget was Measure C money collected from growers and others in the cannabis industry, Rebecca Callen, the auditor-controller for Calaveras County, said the Measure C share was $4,504,504.81 of the county’s total $63,173,570 budget. That worked out to 7.13 percent.

Jason Hauer with the Calaveras Cannabis Legal Defense Fund says the ban vote Wednesday effectively shut down 500 local businesses, and it should be no surprise that many will fight legally 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. They are represented by Oakland attorney William Panzer.

Bob Bowerman, with the Calaveras chapter of the 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.

The ban becomes effective Feb. 9, 2018, the county’s primary cannabis web page states. Commercial growers who registered under the existing urgency ordinance, adopted May 10, 2016, and those who are still operating under an application pending status, will have 90 days after Feb. 9 to come into compliance with the ban.

The same day the board voted to ban the cultivation and commerce of cannabis, the county sheriff’s Marijuana Enforcement Team served a search warrant on an allegedly illegal, unregistered indoor grow at a home on Baldwin Street in Valley Springs.

Deputies said they found the entire house converted for marijuana cultivation. They seized 1,447 plants and arrested a man and a woman identified as Wenhai Yang, 52, and Xiugin Yang, 52. They were booked at Calaveras County Jail on charges including illegal marijuana cultivation, operating a drug house and criminal conspiracy.

With a ban in place, the Sheriff’s Office will get less funding for enforcing local cannabis laws. Some critics say the county will not be able to enforce a ban due to lack of Measure C taxes and other fees collected from licensed growers.

Hauer urged land owners who have been harmed by the ban vote, business owners who will be harmed by elimination of 20 percent of the local economy, and pot farmers to contact the Calaveras Cannabis Legal Defense Fund.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.