Jason Cowan
The Union Democrat

A delayed county-prepared marijuana ban has some cultivators in Calaveras County concerned because the new release date is projected sometime after millions of dollars in cannabis taxes are due.

Calaveras County Planning Director Peter Maurer said Thursday the county-prepared ban ordinance likely won’t come out until June or July.

He said they’re waiting on an environmental impact report prepared in conjunction with a regulatory document the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors advised staff to pursue last year. He expects to have that by the end of the month.

“The fact that there are at least 1,000 or more growers, what happens if you say it’s illegal? The environmental effects? Will people walk away from their grows? Does that leave potential environmental hazard?” Maurer said. “Those are the things we need to consider. Under normal circumstances, it would be exempt (with a ban).”

Calaveras supervisors advised staff to prepare an ordinance that would ban cannabis cultivation throughout Calaveras County. Originally, it was scheduled to be approved by the end of the month, go into effect within 30 days and provide cultivators an additional 90 days to comply.

The efforts were coordinated to parallel Measure B, a ban initiative scheduled for an all-mail vote on May 2.

Maurer said the EIR will require public comment for 45 days after it’s released. The county then will reply to each comment before advancing a package with the proposed ordinance to the Calaveras County Planning Commission for recommendation to supervisors.

The timeline will certainly be later than the first payment due for a cannabis tax, which imposes $2 per square foot of canopy space per outdoor grow and $5 per square foot of indoor. Dispensaries will owe a 7 percent tax as well.

The tax will go away if Measure B succeeds.

If Measure B is defeated, Bob Bowerman, founder of the Sacramento National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the first bill for the cannabis tax will go out in April and will be due back by the end of May. It is expected the tax could bring in between $15 million and $20 million a year.

Bowerman said there would be significant legal ramifications if the county collects the tax then turns around and bans the industry with a county-prepared ban months later.

“It will be a field day for the lawyers,” Bowerman said. “It’s called bait and switch. The answer to that is ‘no.’ Don’t do that. You’re going to hurt the county. You’re going to hurt it badly. Don’t do it to the county. Don’t do it to the farmers.”

Prapanna Smith, owner of the indoor permitted Magic Show LLC, based in Hathaway Pines, said county leaders should give up the tax income if they decide to ban.

“The cannot have it both ways,” he said.

Maurer defended the tax with a looming ban. He said the delay essentially creates an additional season for cultivators if Measure B fails. They’ll be able to get another crop out, he said.

Though he’s not an outdoor cultivator, Smith said the earliest they would be able to harvest is September.