February 23, 2018
By Ward La Valley
At its Feb. 12 meeting the Calaveras Board of Supervisors, citing concerns over litigation, declined to put measures on the June ballot that would have given voters a chance to weigh in, again, on the issue of Regulating, or Banning, commercial marijuana activities.
Instead, it allowed to let stand the Ban Ordinance it passed two weeks earlier. Upon taking effect March 9, the Ordinance effectively shuts down non-medical legal commercial marijuana growing in Calaveras County. It also shuts down the revenue stream generated previously under Measure C, the marijuana tax initiative passed by voters in 2016.
As a result, crucial variables in weighing the election prospects of the various candidates for public office have evolved significantly. Instead of Regulations being in place, or ballot measures on the ballot, the existing Ban must now be evaluated for its possible effects on the election.
The essence of the question lies in determining the effects of the Ban on the level of effort that can be expected from both sides of the Commercial Marijuana issue.
What is a Special Interest?
To some, a Special Interest is any group or organization whose goals they don’t agree with.
But a Special Interest is specifically any single group or collection of groups, businesses, or committees who have organized for a specific purpose. For some, to be a Special Interest, the goals of the Special Interest must be private, that is the goals are to influence public policy to benefit the groups involved. However, nearly all Special Interests, as part of their narrative, claim that their private interests also serve the public’s interests – that society also benefits when they benefit.
Calaveras County Politics and Special Interests
Like nearly everywhere, Calaveras County politics has been heavily influenced, if not dominated, by Special Interests. In living memory, the dominant Special Interest has been the Builder / Banker / Realtor alliance, which we’ll call the Real Estate Complex. The Real Estate Complex has been markedly successful in bending Calaveras land use policy to its will (see “In the Interests of Full Disclosure” Calaveras Enterprise, Feb 10, 2012)
After a run of nearly 30 years, only the truly wretched excesses of residential building in the early 21st Century, and the resulting Great Recession, finally stopped the heavy flow of resources from the Real Estate Complex to Calaveras candidates willing to take them.
Today, however, a new Special Interest has grown in Calaveras politics. It is the Commercial Marijuana Special Interest, and it is just like any other Special Interest, except it’s completely different.
Previous Special Interests in Calaveras politics, like the Real Estate Complex, were driven by a desire for increased business revenues. While many in the Complex were dedicated to pursuing the group’s goals, it cannot be said that the Real Estate Complex produces anything like the energy and passion that drives the Commercial Marijuana Special Interest.
This is because the Commercial Marijuana Special Interest (CMSI) is more than just an alliance of related businesses. For many, the issue of Commercial Marijuana becomes conflated with the very idea of Marijuana, and for some Marijuana is a cause, not a business. Indeed, as we have seen, for some Marijuana is a religion.
Intuition and experience suggest that the CMSI may not be as cohesive, organized, and disciplined as are some Special Interests, e.g. the National Rifle Association, so it is virtually impossible to really know how the Ban will ultimately influence their effort in the election, no matter what some may say. Some may now pack up and leave for Nevada. Some may choose to invest in a law suit. And some proportion, probably those that have longer, stronger roots in the County, may opt to stay and fight the issue out at the ballot box.
And, as passionate as the CMSI may sometimes become, Ban supporters, while having no direct monetary interest and thus possessing drastically reduced financial resources, can be equally passionate. What change will the Ban produce in their level of commitment at the ballot box this year?
The New Calaveras County Political Environment
We come now to the crux of the matter: the expected environment having migrated from Regulations, to a Ballot Box Battle, and now to a Ban, how has the political chessboard changed?
Under the “Regulations as Law” scenario, the total financial and ‘energy’ investment by the CMSI might have been expected to be, call it X, with all of the resources going to CMSI friendly candidates. Under the “Ballot Box Battle” scenario, the investment could be expected to have been 3X, 4X, or even higher, with huge resources going towards the ballot measures. But what might their political investment be under the Ban? More than X, certainly, but will it be less, or perhaps even more, than the sky-is-the-limit level of campaign resources we could have expected with ballot measures?
Conversely, the same questions may be asked about those supporting the Ban. Candidates counting on a “Regulation Backlash” in the election may now have to broaden their narratives.
There is one more variable. As evidence of the passions generated by Commercial Marijuana on both sides, there is currently an effort to recall every Supervisor not on the ballot this June.
One recall effort is directed at District Two Supervisor Jack Garamendi, son of the former Lt. Governor of California. Jack is a supporter of Regulations; hence the recall is being conducted by opponents of Regulations. His district is evenly divided on this issue, and on paper this recall effort has the steepest mountain to climb.
The other two recall efforts, against 1st District Supervisor Gary Tofenelli and 3rd District Supervisor Dennis Mills, both of whom voted for the Ban, have the advantage of appealing to an aroused and already-semi-organized CMSI. It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that if the CMSI can flip just one District – either Districts One or Four (by forcing a recall election), or District 5 (regularly scheduled election), another run at Regulations could have better success for the 2019 growing season.
The fact is, however, that organizing and conducting a successful recall campaign is not easy, and the chances of any of the three efforts succeeding are no better than 50-50.
Lane Changes: Winners and Losers
As discussed earlier, if the Commercial Marijuana issue had itself been on the ballot, candidates for Sheriff and Supervisor would have found themselves running in one of three lanes. Then, Lane One was the Opposition to Commercial Marijuana lane, Lane Two was the grudging, pragmatic acceptance of Regulations lane, and Lane Three was the Warm, Open Embrace of Regulations.
Lane 1: With no ballot measures and a Ban in effect, Lane One can now expect less enthusiasm and resources from supporters of the Ban. Nothing deflates political relevance, urgency, and energy like success. Lane One candidates must now confront a real budget issue, not just the theoretical one they would have faced under a Regulations scenario.
Lane 2: Lane Two shouldn’t see much change in available enthusiasm or resources, and now has more room to maneuver. If the County is heading for lawlessness and bankruptcy during the campaign, Lane Two may suggest another look at Regulations after thorough study, etc. Otherwise Lane Two can simply talk about other things. Lane Two is now wider and can accommodate a broader narrative.
Lane 3: For the same reasons that Lane One suffers politically from the Ban, Lane Three may benefit. With no Marijuana-related ballot measures on the ballot, whatever level of CMSI resources that will be forthcoming will now go to Lane 3 (or maybe Lane 2) candidates for Sheriff and Supervisor. If, however, CMSI resources are not forthcoming for a Lane 3 candidate, look for them to try and occupy Lane Two.
As can be seen, the Ban has the potential to reduce the degree to which the Marijuana issue is emphasized, at least in some races. The Sheriff’s race is a different beast than any Supervisor’s race, and the differences between campaigning in District Three versus District Five are significant.
Early indications are that the Ban has served to place more emphasis on the County Budget, and candidates are finding themselves needing to sound informed on fiscal issues. Even Lane 3 candidates might now need to be able to discuss One-Time-Funding sources, Teeter Funds, Department Carry-overs, un-filled staff positions, PERS contributions, and pension shortfalls.
So now, we wait. We wait to make sure we know who will be on the ballot, as until March 9 (and maybe longer regarding the Recalls) it is still possible for someone to march into the Office of the County Clerk, produce a handful of valid signatures and a hefty check, and throw their proverbial hat into a ring. These candidacies are usually not designed to actually win; their purpose is to reduce the vote of another candidate. This is not unprecedented.
And this year, I’m take nothing for granted!