Jason Cowan
The Union Democrat

While many in Calaveras County are gearing up for an election in May to ban cannabis cultivation, Bob Bowerman has spent the past four months researching regulations — harsher than what’s in place now — in hopes of saving the industry.

Bowerman said Monday he intends to reveal his plan at a Board of Supervisor’s meeting March 28.

He said saving the industry is vital. The Center for Business & Policy Research at the University of Pacific says cannabis farming is the largest industry in the county.

Yet, the ban known as Measure B will be voted on May 2 and county supervisors have asked staff to come back with an ordinance they can consider to ban cannabis growing by the end of March.

Bowerman has said for weeks Measure B will be defeated. He said Monday he thinks the ban talk by county supervisors is nothing more than a power play.

“It’s a political play to help the ban succeed at the polls,” Bowerman said. “I don’t think it would happen. If the ban is put into action by the county, it would have to refund the registration fees and wouldn't get any Measure C (cannabis tax) money.”

Bowerman, founder and former executive director of the Sacramento branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said much of the feedback he’s gotten has come from the general public. Some of his suggestions have irked a number of the cultivators regulations, he said.

He would set a 20-acre minimum property size in rural residential zones to cultivate commercially. The current ordinance allows pot farming on a property larger than two acres. Bowerman said it’s much easier to purchase a smaller plot than a larger one.

Still, those registered by a possible implementation date could be grandfathered in if they’re cultivating on sites that range between five and 19 acres and are in good standing in the county, Bowerman said.

“As long as they’re good neighbors,” said Bowerman. “They aren’t threatening people on the block, terrorizing neighbors, stopping people on the street, blocking kids and their old bike trails.”

Generally, commercial cultivation will be prohibited on residential properties under five acres. Bowerman said registered cultivators would have a year to transfer to a new location.

Individuals would not be allowed to register multiple sites under the same name. Maximum canopy space would be limited to one-half an acre.

Permits for the whole industry from cultivation activities to medical dispensaries and transportation will cost $5,000. Additional permits required by the state law would also come at a cost. Bowerman said regulations extend to the recreational part of the industry as well.

Caregivers that grow for up to five people will have to pay a $500 permit fee. They’ll operate a maximum of 500 square feet of canopy size on sites larger than five acres.

Personal and recreational growers will not be subject to any fees nor county inspections. They’ll be able to cultivate 200 square feet or six plants or 100 square feet of canopy space respectively.

Unlike the urgency ordinance, fees would not be restricted to the costs of the program. Bowerman said 50 percent of all monies made via the program would go to the county’s general fund. Two chunks of 25 percent would go to the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office and county schools respectively.

A Calaveras County Cannabis Department would be created to grant or deny permits. It would include a director, five commissioners, three support staff and one information technology professional. Bowerman said he’ll know the cost of this department by the end of the week .

The CCCD would utilize “track and trace” software to watch the cannabis product throughout its lifetime from seed to sales. It would report to the board of supervisors and collaborate with various county departments including the sheriff’s office and Calaveras County Code Enforcement.

Background checks would be responsibility of the CCCD. It would send copies to the sheriff’s office, Bowerman said. Those with non-cannabis related felonies would be rejected. All cannabis employees would be subject to background checks, something different from the urgency ordinance, which requires a check on the applicant. Bowerman said identification cards could be issued to those involved.

“That could help deputies track the people involved,” Bowerman said.

Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio declined to comment on Bowerman’s proposal.

Once Bowerman announces the proposal in March, he will launch a public website where people can access information and provide feedback. It will remain available for evaluation for up to a month. After that, the document will be adjusted accordingly and presented again to the board of supervisors, he said.

“It’s all a work in progress,” said Bowerman.

Bowerman hopes to have a resolution to his proposal by the end of the year. He said it may become the subject of a countywide vote.

If supervisors decide against directing staff to work with the ordinance, something that wouldn’t come as a surprise to Bowerman, he would begin gathering signatures for a petition. He said he’ll source the best gatherers in the state and will finish within a week.

Everything changes if county supervisors enact a ban, Bowerman said. Timetables would be expedited. He added he does not think supervisors will OK a ban.

Bill McManus, a proponent for the cannabis ban initiative up for election in May, said he was unfamiliar with a number of the details Bowerman is working on but he thinks the efforts to regulate are coming a little too late to make an impact.

“I think he’s a little late coming out of the barn trying to come up with something between Measure D and the ban,” McManus said. “If Bob (Bowerman) wants to get something out there like that, he better collect signatures like we did, then make his case.”