Talk about getting a cannabis ban or regulation on November ballots re-ignited simmering tensions among pot farmers and pro-ban people Tuesday evening as curse words, finger pointing and name-calling boiled over near the end of a marathon meeting of the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors that began at 8 a.m. and ended just before 9 p.m.
Ultimately, the five-member board’s effort to hash out what to ask voters in November failed and they took no action.
Several hours were devoted to contentious public comments about pot and the current state of the county, as well as the board’s long-winded deliberations that in the end proved fruitless.
Motions put forth by individual supervisors to place only a ban on ballots, to hire a pollster to measure public opinion on regulation, and to simply adjourn and go home all died with no support.
The current county ban on commercial cannabis activities -- approved in January by supervisors Tofanelli, Clapp and Dennis Mills, District 4, and opposed by Jack Garamendi, District 2, and Mike Oliveira, District 3 -- remains in full effect. For now, nothing related to pot farming in Calaveras County will be on November ballots.
Gina Gonzales, a vocal pro-ban advocate who said she reports illegal cannabis activities on a daily basis, countered criticism of Clapp, Mills and Tofanelli by praising them as “awesome.”
“I resent being called a liar,” said Bill McManus of the Committee to Ban Commercial Cultivation in Calaveras County, referring to several pro-regulation people who accused McManus of coordinating with three supervisors to misinform the public.
“How do we regulate?” McManus said. “We’ve learned we can’t regulate this industry. Let the people vote. A ban, yes or no.”
‘Killing the county’
Cliff Edson, owner of Country Cliff’s restaurant in San Andreas and former supervisor for District 1 during the disastrous Butte Fire and its immediate aftermath, addressed the board before they took no action and after.
The first time Edson said, “Here we are, two years later. People don’t know what’s true? I blame that on you. You are supposed to take in all the information, not listen to the best liar, not the one that tells the best story, not the one that gives you the most grief.
“You guys are killing this county,” Edson said. “I’m making an announcement. Country Cliff’s will close at the end of this year. That’s where our economy is right now. It’s not just Mountain Ranch. If you lie and say our county budget is fine, you know that’s not true.”
‘Fear to the forefront’
Earlier Tuesday, Lavonne Miller, an out-of-work resident in the Mountain Ranch area, said putting a ballot question to voters right now in Calaveras County is a bad idea because there’s so much false information being packaged as scientific truth.
“Some people in county leadership, including three elected supervisors, have partnered with the pro-ban people who are basically a special interest group,” Miller said. “They’re in a coordinated disinformation campaign. The same thing that’s happening on the national level. Lies are being put out to the public and passed off as facts. Now is not the time for an election. The lies need to be cleaned up.”
Miller said she has family members who have been registered to grow pot with the county and they’ve been fully compliant, law-abiding, tax-paying contributors to the local economy. Now she feels “demonized” by pro-ban supporters.
“This has brought fear to forefront,” Miller said. “Who can I tell my family farms in the industry as I look for a job? It’s horrible that I should be called a criminal in a legal industry.”
Down and dirty
The long day of pot-related acrimony came about Tuesday in part because Mills floated the idea – putting a ban-or-regulate question to voters in November – at the end of a three-day budget hearing that ended June 14. It’s an idea McManus brought to the board two days before.
“The ban is here and we would like to see it become permanent,” McManus told the board in a public comment period June 12. “I hope the board will get this on the ballot and get it over with.”
The board was polled two weeks ago and only Garamendi was opposed to the idea.
It was after 4 p.m. when Rebecca Turner, the county clerk-recorder who oversees elections, introduced the item about putting the ban on the ballot, the same one brought to them in January.
Garamendi said, “Let’s have a robust conversation now before public comment.”
Clapp said, “Let’s put it to voters in language they understand.”
Oliveira said, “Voters can make this binding.”
Mills said, “I’d like to hear from all sides.”
Tofanelli said, “There’s an elephant in the room. We voted 3-2 on this, yes, we were divided. Then it can come back each time there’s a new board.”
The supervisors talked about the festering divisiveness that has emerged in Calaveras County over the past two and half years, how passionate people on both sides of the issue are, how the question of cannabis and whether to ban or regulate has become a revolving door.
Garamendi emphasized the board should pause and be cautious because of the risk of further litigation. Calaveras County is facing at least four cannabis-related legal actions filed by growers and their lawyers who say they represent 500 farmers put out of business after contributing $13 million in taxes and fees to county coffers.
About two hours later, after more public comments from pro-regulation people and pro-ban people, Garamendi chastised Clapp for cursing earlier in the meeting, and Clapp apologized saying, “It was not directed at you.”
Clapp had said, “That’s (expletive),” when Tofanelli, District 1 supervisor and board chair, polled the board and decided Tuesday’s meeting would extend into nighttime, rather than reconvene Wednesday morning. Clapp said he’d canceled all his appointments to have Wednesday free.
‘Families and friends’
Garamendi suggested adjourning so everyone could go home. Mills said he’s not afraid of being recalled. He also said the unemployment rate in Calaveras County is 4 percent, the lowest in years.
“You’ve probably never heard me talk like this before,” Mills said. “I’d like to get us back to being families and friends.”
Still later in the evening, Garamendi moved taking no action. The motion died without a second. Then he moved for having staff prepare a request for bids to survey voters on regulating commercial cannabis. That too died without a second.
Then Clapp made a motion “to put number B on ballots to ban.” This confused some supervisors and staff. Megan Stedtfeld, county counsel, explained to Clapp and the rest of the board that if voters reject the ban, the current ban remains in effect, and the board has that information before them, that voters do not want a ban, and the board can work on a substitute for the ban, such as regulation.
Toffanelli asked, “We are currently defending four lawsuits?”
Oliveira said, “Now I’m with Supervisor Garamendi.”
“Trying to defend all the lawsuits before us,” Tofanelli said, “that’s a lot of money.”
Tofanelli added that educating voters before putting a cannabis ban or regulation on ballots could take more time than remains between now and the Nov. 6 general election.
“Will people know what they’re voting on, and why they’re voting on it?” Tofanelli asked.
‘Look out for the future’
A motion by Clapp to certify an environmental impact report and move forward with putting a ban on November ballots died without a second.
“I’m hearing we need more information,” Mills said. “I would still like to get it to voters, see exactly how we can get something on ballots that is valid and defensible.”
Turner, the county elections coordinator, told the Board of Supervisors the next scheduled election after November 2018 is not until June 2020, and a special election for a cannabis ballot question could cost Calaveras County $50,000 to $100,000.
It was about 8:15 p.m. when Item 46 finally died. Several people stayed and yelled at Tofanelli that they still had time coming for more public comments.
“You guys talk about division in the county and what’s going on,” Edson said. “Go visit some businesses. Go to Senders in Mountain Ranch. Come to my restaurant. Three orders by 9 a.m. It’s not that hard to work with the truth. Don’t fabricate stuff. Look out for the future. A lot of people are losing their income.”
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.