Many formerly legal cannabis growers in Calaveras County ripped up plants, cut down plants, and took other steps Wednesday to comply with a ban on commercial cultivation.
A ban adopted by the Board of Supervisors in January took full effect Thursday.
“It’s very, very sad we have to cut our own plants,” Ilavenmahdi Smith said Wednesday night at a licensed indoor grow operation called Magic Show LLC in the Hathaway Pines-Avery area. She is a co-owner with her husband, Prapanna Randall Smith, and Nathaniel Walker. “I’m very disappointed. It is too much to have to destroy our own business.”
Walker used a set of heavy-duty, metal-edged clippers to cut the stalks of premature potted plants at their base in part of a 450-square-foot garden under glowing lights and air filters.
“This stuff is useless as a commercial product now,” Walker said. “It’s way premature. You couldn’t ask people to pay money for that.”
Prapanna Smith gestured at the cut plants and empty pots with fresh-cut stalk stumps and said it would have been worth a quarter-million dollars if grown to maturity and sold at retail prices. The total value of marijuana Magic Show owners destroyed Wednesday night was estimated to be worth more than $675,000 retail.
“Tomorrow if the sheriff shows up here, we’re not going to jail,” Walker said between cutting plants and tossing them into a pile for disposal. “This place is going to be empty.”
Magic Show had $100,000 invested in lighting alone, another $25,000 in fans, particle filters and carbons, and $30,000 in design of a planned expansion that will no longer happen, Walker and Smith said.
“We have no other location to go to,” Walker said. “We’ve been looking more than a year to find another building. There is no other building available. Landlords have done a good job raising their rents.”
Shutting down their business clearly angered the Smiths and Walker and other workers. Some eased their pain with cold beer while they labored. After 9 p.m., Prapanna Smith smoked a finger-sized spliff of marijuana slowly as he supervised.
Earlier in the day, the growers and their lawyers tried to get an appeals court to direct Calaveras Superior Court to restrain the county from enforcing the ban, pending disposition of a preliminary injunction on June 15. That failed.
By Thursday morning, no living cannabis plants were left at Magic Show, Smith said.
“We had a licensed distributor come up and we signed over all our finished product before midnight and they’re taking it to market,” Prapanna Smith said. “All the plants are killed, all the mother plants are gone, everything cannabis related is gone. There’s nothing left in there alive.”
Smith said he planned to have the remnants of his destroyed crop taken to a county dump to be discarded with yard waste.
“We turned off lights and turned off fans,” Smith said. “The whole thing is done now. Finished.”
In prepared remarks, the Smiths and Walker expressed outrage at being forced to shut down their legal business.
“This is a travesty of justice! We are, and have been for years, advocates of proper regulation and control of all Cannabis business activities in the State of California and in Calaveras County,” the Magic Show owners said in a statement.
Now Magic Show is being pushed out of the county and out of the newly-regulated California cultivation system because of “the hatred and overt bigotry of a vocal and vociferous minority of just a few citizens here, and three supervisors who came into office with a political agenda to crush people they don’t know and towards whom they have shown intense animosity and hatred.”
Tim Lutz, county administrator, and Sheriff Rick DiBasilio could not be reached for comment on what county staff the Sheriff’s Office, Code Enforcement and other departments were doing to educate, inspect and enforce the ban.
The ban means all cannabis cultivation, except for registered personal use, must cease.
Joan Wilson, who had a 3,000-square-foot outdoor cannabis grow on 20 acres at Circle XX outside Angels Camp, said she never replanted once the Board of Supervisors adopted the ban on a split 3-2 vote in January.
“We figured if anything we’re going to lose this season,” she said. “It tore my heart out to rip up plants back in February, March. A lot of people were ripping up plants yesterday, this last week.”
Wilson said she can no longer grow what she could before for personal medical use, before a 2016 urgency ordinance that allowed regulated commercial cannabis cultivation. She and her husband have owned their land since 2011.
“I can’t even grow outside any more for personal medical use,” Wilson said. “I’m trying not to think about it.”
Wilson said she trying to make ends meet by working at Moaning Cavern in Vallecito, where she is a naturalist, gives tours and works with the merchandise manager.
“I take care of the store,” Wilson said. “Bill hauls trash and he’s been working on the recalls of Mills and Tofanelli.”
Joan Wilson was referring to efforts to recall Dennis Mills, the District 4 supervisor, and Gary Tofanelli, the District 1 supervisor, who both voted for the ban. In early May, Bill Wilson told the Board of Supervisors their ban was shutting down more than 500 registered, legal pot farms that are no longer legally viable under the current ban.
The efforts to recall Mills and Tofanelli began in January, after the board’s split vote to ban commercial cannabis activities, and growers were active in leading those efforts. On Thursday, some recall supporters emphasized the recalls have broad community support.
David "DK" Sweet, who has been active sharing information about cannabis farming in Calaveras County, the Board of Supervisors and the current ban, said Thursday most of the people out collecting signatures to recall Mills are not, and never have been, growers.
Proponents of recalling Mills turned in what they said were more than 2,000 signatures before 5 p.m. Wednesday. The county elections office has 30 business days to count and validate the signatures.
Jeremy Maddux, who handed over the signatures Wednesday at the county elections office, said Thursday the effort to recall Mills has been community driven.
A separate petition to recall Tofanelli was approved for circulation on March 30. The proponents are required to submit 1,396 valid signatures by 5 p.m. June 28.
In both recall efforts, if proponents get enough signatures and the signatures are validated by the county elections office, voters could get to decide whether to recall Mills and Tofanelli later this year.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.