LEGALIZING CANNABIS

After three killings in Calaveras County this year over protecting marijuana patches, the county began to wrestle with the subject of legalizing cannabis. Commercial Growers and individual users who grow their own plants, if my assessment is correct, are following state laws, that conflict somewhat with Federal law. Something clearly needed to be fixed.

I’ve been waylaid on this subject for eight days as my hard drive in my computer began to gasp and die. I attended a meeting July 12th hosted by the Calaveras County Democrats Club. They invited speakers Merita Callaway, Bill McManus and Bob Bowerman to explain the benefits, the inherent problems, and possible solutions involved with legalizing marijuana/or banning it outright.

Former supervisor, Merita Callaway spoke for the Callaway-Stevenot initiative.  The initiative has qualified for the November ballot as Measure D and only deals with growing.

LAND USE:  A grower must have a minimum size of 2 acres. Set back from property lines  is 75 feet. Growing is not permitted in Residential-1 zones. Cultivation cannot exceed 15% of the growing  area. One/half  acre of total canopy is permitted.  Growers can use green house culture or outdoor plantings.

SECURITY: Grow must be secured by a 6 foot fence screening plants from the public. They must submit a security plan. Growers must allow reasonable on-sight inspections; Grower must be fingerprinted and submit to criminal background check. Generators must be operated from an insulated shed for noise compliance.

ENVIRONMENT: Growers using natural waterways must be Permitted by Fish & Wildlife. They must submit a water use plan. Well users will need a well permit and be metered for use. Outdoor light must be shielded by canopy to prevent light pollution and glare. Canopy cover must also shield plants from public view as they rise above fence height, in areas where the public is legally allowed to be. Growers must comply with regulations for use of fertilizers and pesticides and must get a permit through Environmental Health. Growers must comply with storage rules for hazardous materials. The grow site must be inhabited by a permanent resident of the county in a dwelling. (The grower is given a year to provide a permanent dwelling.)

The initiative is carefully constructed, looking to cover any loopholes of definition, plant type, and anything that will affect the quality of life of others.  The initiative also deals with caregiver and personal cultivation uses. It has an appeals process if needed. It discusses fees and enforcement. I am impressed by the 32 page document and the work it represents. I am also concerned with what I see as weak areas.

Number 1: The potential for noise other than a generator is also an issue. Gunfire, barking dogs, and increased traffic on rural roads. Our county Noise Ordinance is very weak and non specific, and in my opinion useless. They do not enforce it unless an inspector, a cop or someone official is there to hear it. They will not accept a tape unless it records noise levels in decibels, and the source is provable.

Number 2: Reasonable inspections does not do it for me. What constitutes reasonable?  More a concern for dispensaries than a grow, but certainly a surprise element, so no cover-up occurs. All inspectors should have access to grower gates for emergency services, like fire.  It should be available for inspection on demand at any time to effectively monitor regulations. I didn’t see, but may have missed whether dogs are used as warning security. It becomes an issue for neighbors. I saw nothing addressing dust. Where cultivation occurs, ATV’s can create enormous amounts of dust that affect neighboring properties and air quality. In general, the document is stricter than state requirements, and I believe that to be a plus. I commend Callaway and Stevenot for their efforts. Changes after the fact are always hard to make.

Speaker Bill McManus is a passionate proponent of banning marijuana grows, and thus, dispensaries,  in the county. His group of locals supporters got enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot as well.

McManus maintains that regulations do not work. They’ve been tried and they’ve failed. They are unenforceable. He sites Yuba County allowed legal cannabis, then banned legal outdoor growing after two shootings. Growers tend to protect their crops with deadly force. He says the industry always touts the jobs and money created by cannabis grows. But, the statistics don’t show an increase in taxable income. He also sited a legal grow in the county where a neighbor is afraid to let her children outside. The growers warn the children away asking them not to look in that direction nor go anywhere near the property. She owns the burned out property and can’t afford to move anywhere else. She is scared in her own house.

One question from a ban supporter, a nurse, cited a 17% increase in vehicular accidents since marijuana has been legalized. She also points out there is a test for alcohol, but not for cannabis impairment. A very valid point. She posits that a test can be developed but it won’t cut down on the impaired drivers. They will only increase with legalization. A given and a worry.

Another negative about cannabis use as compared to alcohol. You have too many drinks and from three to  seven hours later, you are sober. With Cannabis a user can remain impaired  for 24 hours.

I spoke with one person who cited the difficulty in Mendocino County. The growers often use Mexican labor, legal or not. They pay in cash or buds. Another huge problem that did not come up at the meeting is that Federal law prevents cannabis growers from having a bank account for their money.The law was made to prevent money laundering for illegal substances.  Growers have gobs of cash. They are vulnerable to criminals and violence. A grow and a dispensary can be a dangerous business in any neighborhood. A partial solution is to form a Union for cannabis employees, with benefits. It would benefit the county and provide a measure of safety.

Bob Bowerman is a member of NORML, which stands for the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Law. He has visited legal marijuana grows all over the state and in Washington and Colorado. He claims, “I’m a realist. Marijuana is here and it is not going anywhere. I’m for regulating it and getting the illegal growers out.”

We’ve had illegal grows on Public Lands, and in hidden canyons on private lands where an owner may be unaware his land is being used. I remember trying to do the census some years back and the growers command some of the back roads and don’t allow anyone to trespass. It was scary to meet a man with a rifle who ordered me to turn around.

They use booby traps and guns and dogs to protect their grows.  They sell to the drug cartels. The drug cartels very professionally target college campuses and our young adults. Statistics show that 20% of the population uses cannabis.

The state, and other states are legalizing cannabis and it won’t be long before recreational cannabis is legal as well. The push for growing is for  medical benefits, but everyone knows, it is easy to get a medical card and do what you want.

When the county decided to accept grower applications at $5,000 each for a permit, they had no idea they would get, from last count, over 900 applications. They have yet to be sorted. Criminal  background checks have to be done. And, thus far, the $5,000 from applications is slated for enforcement.

One guy in the audience griped, “They want to fingerprint and background check every employee?  That is ridiculous.”

More tomorrow.

 

 

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