Jason Cowan
The Union Democrat

The future of the cannabis industry in Calaveras County appears to be at risk for the first time since the start of the summer after cultivation advocates suffered multiple defeats at the polls.

Two members of the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors who were in favor of establishing rules for the marijuana industry were voted out Tuesday when Cliff Edson, from District 1, lost at the polls and Steve Kearney, from District 5, was recalled.

The loss of Edson and Kearney eliminated the final two members of the four supervisors on the board who voted in favor of a temporary urgency ordinance that established cultivation provisions in May and reaffirmed them in June.

Chris Wright, from District 2, and Debbie Ponte, from District 4, both voted in favor but decided against seeking reelection and will be replaced at year’s end.

The remaining supervisor, Michael Oliveira, from District 3, has opposed the ordinance since its inception. He was the lone dissenter of the ordinance that required a four-fifths vote on two occasions.

Incoming board members Gary Tofanelli, District 1, Dennis Mills, District 4, and Clyde Clapp, District 5, have publicly condemned a citizens’ initiative, Measure D, or other cannabis activities. Jack Garamendi, the District 2 supervisor-elect, has not stated an opinion publicly.

Renewal would fail if just one additional supervisor joins Oliveira by the time the ordinance returns for review during a public hearing on Feb. 14.

If the ordinance is not renewed and no document is adopted in its stead, cultivation would neither be allowed nor outlawed.

In addition, Measure D, a $167 million attempt to establish a complete and permanent regulatory system in the county, would have taken the decision out of the hands of county policy makers, but was shot down by a 54 percent of the voters.

“I think the county once again has a situation in its hands that is not clear,” said Barden Stevenot, a proponent and spokesperson for the measure. “The water is muddy now. We cannot see where we’re going.”

Will it-Won’t it

Randall Smith, treasurer for the Measure D campaign and owner of Magic Snow, LLC, in Hathaway Pines, said the decision to extend or end the urgency ordinance could go either way next February.

“Who knows what their motivations will be? It is one thing to run for office. Then you’ll sit in the seat and see things you haven’t seen and reconsider some of the things you’ve ran on,” Smith said.

Smith said any option that effectively prevents cultivation will not benefit Calaveras. He said the county, with the regular deficits in the annual budget, could not fund the abatement. Most of the money that could pay for the elimination would disappear once the cannabis revenue is no longer available.

“They have to consider the impact for Measure C, the cannabis tax, which they lose if they do not renew the urgency ordinance,” Smith said. “If they were to go to an all-out ban, California would give zero dollars for enforcement… the state won’t allow money to go from a regulated jurisdiction to a ban jurisdiction.”

Even in the event of a ban Smith said it would not fully eliminate cultivation. He said only the “good growers,” would leave. Those that would remain would be growers who terrorize communities.

“The good guys won’t stay. People with a business model to operate in a regulated market, those guys won’t stay,” he said. “In a market based on prohibition, criminals always thrive. We have plenty of history to show that.”

Smith said cannabis proponents will take a step back from advocacy for a few months following the defeat of Measure C. He said they will regroup before fighting to extend the urgency ordinance.

The next attempt to permanently regulate the cannabis industry will be from a permanent ordinance prepared by the county. Calaveras County Planning Director said the document will be before county supervisors for vote by next summer.

Maurer said the incoming supervisors could direct county officials against regulation however.

“They are the policy makers,” Maurer said.

An attempted ban

Bill McManus, chairperson for the Committee to Ban Commercial Cultivation, said efforts to outlaw marijuana farming in the county have gained a lot of momentum.

He said proponents have gathered more than 5,300 signatures toward a ballot initiative to ban cultivation. The ban could appear during a special election if about 3,200 are verified by the Calaveras County Elections Department.

“The people will get a chance to vote on it. We’re more than confident based on the signatures and what happened in the election, the ban will be a slam dunk,” McManus said. “You can bet money you don’t even have.”

McManus expects the special election to be scheduled for sometime in early 2017. The exact schedule is pending submission and verification from election officials.

He said county supervisors could decide to skip the election and vote it into law. McManus believed they had enough representation from the county to convince the board a ban could be the direction the county is interested in.

Smith said approving a law without election would be “political suicide.” He said it would open the county up to lawsuit.

“The accusation of ‘bait-and-switch.’ They took $5,000 (from cultivation application fees) and shut down the program in less than a year,” Smith said. “Especially since they didn’t even use the money for its purpose yet. They’re still sitting on a chunk of money.”