Once Virulently Anti-Cannabis, Calaveras County is Reconsidering Commercial Ban

[Editor’s Note: Calaveras County may be more famous for jumping frogs, but they’re also notoriously famous for the cannabis ban put into place at the beginning of 2018. The anti-cannabis county supervisors have been voted out and the county is taking steps to move into the modern era.]

Calaveras County growers in Northern California may have been tentatively enthused last week when the Board of Supervisors directed staff to prepare regulatory ordinances that would allow the area to rejoin the state’s cannabis industry.

The county’s Board of Supervisors voted to ban cannabis entirely from the county in January of 2018, right when the rest of the state was celebrating the legalization of recreational weed. The decision was devastating for local growers, who were given just three months to halt production on their property. No concessions were made for refunding the various fees the growers had already paid to the county to set up their businesses.

But on Tuesday, months after November’s elections displaced some of the county’s most fervent anti-pot elected officials, Supervisors spent most of the day on the process of revamping cannabis policy. They discussed the finer points of what re-legalization would look like in the county. Among the items up for analysis were the size of permitted grows, potential centralized facilities for processing marijuana, and application requirements for growers. No immediate conclusion was reached on any of these items.

The day started with presentations from the sheriff, public works, building and safety, code enforcement, waste management, the treasurer, and the auditor-controller on how their offices operated the first time that marijuana production was regulated in the county, from May 2016 to January 2019. Recommendations were asked from each entity about what it would need to once again oversee a legal cannabis system.

Supervisors also heard from the public, from Calaveras County individuals who were both for and against the year-old ban. Not everyone thought that the county’s quest to establish its own regulatory system was the best plan.

“Seems like why reinvent the wheel,” said Al Segalla of the Calaveras County Taxpayers Association. “Let the state take care of regulation and we can focus on land use and zoning. Let the state regulate it and be done with it.”

The Board’s about-face may have everything to do with the will of county voters, who swapped out two pro-ban candidates for supervisors who had expressed openness to reconsidering the prohibition on weed. In November, supervisors Ben Stopper and Merita Callaway won their challenger campaigns. 53 percent of Calaveras County voters approved Prop 64 in 2016, which legalized recreational cannabis for adults.

County officials were the subject of much censure when they took the step to reverse their policy on medical cannabis last year. Farmers that had spent thousands of dollars stepping up their growing operations were left without recourse, and those familiar with the state of marijuana in the county knew the measure would do little to correct illicit market growers.

In January, the Board of Supervisors took the first step towards securing justice for the growers who had been left high and dry by the ban, voting to refund almost $1 million in medical marijuana program registration fees after farmers sued for $16.3 million over the county’s hypocritical about face on cannabis production.

Of course, the ban did not have the intended effect of halting cannabis production in the county. In late January, a woman was taken to the hospital when a gas explosion rocked an outbuilding of a marijuana grow operation. In that incident, police confiscated over 1,000 pounds of cannabis.

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