February 1, 2018 (edited Feb. 3, 2018 for clarity)
In just a few short months, voting will begin in the 2018 Primary Election, and this is the year pretty much every Calaveras County-wide office is up for election, along with (so far) two Supervisorial districts and a slew of seats on a slew of special district boards.
It was going to be an interesting and, for the candidates, difficult year in Calaveras politics anyway, but then a funny thing happened on the way to County regulation of the commercial marijuana industry.
In what cannot possibly have been a pre-meditated result by any of the Supervisors, after a raucous two-day meeting, the County of Calaveras has now banned commercial marijuana within its jurisdiction.
This is no small thing since, even if you are dead-set against large, polluting special interests and /or believe that marijuana is wholly evil, the Calaveras County Auditor on September 28, 2017 informed the public that the County’s 2017/18 budget was “built on the back” of the taxes and fees generated by commercial marijuana. Presumably we are left to believe that without those funds the budget has no back upon which it can rest.
So, if you are like most Calaveras citizens and taxpayers, you are probably either happy or sad about the surprising turn of events, but also filled with confusion and worry.
But wait, there’s more … worried that their unexpected decision to ban commercial marijuana might leave them a little too responsible for the results of that action, Supervisors have decided to try and put the whole thing on the ballot. What exactly will be offered to the voters to decide, if anything, is still up in the air. Prospects for either a Ban or Regulations to receive a positive vote rest very much in the details of either or both measures.
But How Did We Even Get Here?
It is an unfolding story in Calaveras County, one that has transformed the economy and politics of Calaveras County in a really short period of time.
Ostensibly, we hear, the Butte Fire of September 2015 resulted in so much of the County’s rural real estate going up for sale that many commercial marijuana growers got the idea to move in to take advantage of depressed land prices. The rapid growth of the industry created dislocations in local economies – producing some new winners, but also many losers, and it was the losers that usually had lived in the County long before the winners, and their plight moved many to urge the County Supervisors to “do something.”
County government’s quick response was the Urgency Ordinance, passed by the Board of Supervisors in May 2016, which, to address the on-going ‘emergency’ and in anticipation of the passage of State-wide legalization later that year, sought to control the problem through regulation.
Soon thereafter, both sides of the debate sought to put initiatives on the ballot for the coming General Election, but only the commercial marijuana industry was successful, putting measures C (commercial marijuana taxes and fees) & D (regulations) before the voters.
And so it was that at the same time as the voters of the State of California were passing legal marijuana in November 2016, Calaveras County voted down the regulations allowing legal commercial marijuana – but voted in the taxes.
In 2017, it seemed that the only thing anybody was talking about was marijuana. Newspapers seemed filled with alarming news of what felt like a surge of various illegal activities, including human trafficking, violent confrontations, and shocking environmental damage.
Meanwhile, the Urgency Ordinance, which has a limited legal shelf life, continued to be the regulatory framework regarding marijuana in the County. Another attempt to put a Ban on the ballot in 2017 was botched, and widespread dissatisfaction with the whole situation amped up the pressure on Supervisors to “do something.”
So the Supervisors addressed the problem. At first, with three Supervisors favoring a Ban and two favoring Regulation, the policy studies were directed toward a Ban.
Meanwhile, mostly in cash, the money from Measure C poured legally in, and the County started spending it.
Somewhere, sometime, First District Supervisor Gary Tofanelli, formerly favoring a Ban, changed his mind. At a wonderfully dramatic Board meeting, Tofanelli indicated that as the swing vote he was taking charge and signaled that he might be open to Regulation of Commercial Marijuana (this seemed to visibly shock 3rd District Supervisor Dennis Mills).
Accordingly, the County policy apparatus began swinging in the opposite direction and began studying and drafting Regulations as an alternative to a Ban.
Many surprised political observers softly whistled in respect for what appeared to be Tofanelli’s “Nixon goes to China” moment in Calaveras politics.
Not always celebrated as the most cerebral Supervisor, Tofanelli, not up for re-election until 2020, was given credit for effectively dousing the hopes of former First District Supervisor Cliff Edson, who some think lost his seat to Tofanelli in 2016 due to Edson’s early advocacy of regulating commercial marijuana. By cutting Edson off at the pass on pot, it would have been hard to identify any other potential high-profile opponents to Tofanelli and his re-election chances would have improved dramatically.
But this did not happen.
Passed over for Board Chair at the January 9, 2018 meeting by Tofanelli – again – First District Supervisor Jack Garamendi, a strong supporter of Regulations, apparently miscalculated the extent to which Tofanelli wanted and needed Respect.
Apparently to teach Tofanelli a lesson on politics, at the next day’s Special Meeting to decide on commercial marijuana, Garamendi failed to second Tofanelli’s motion to Regulate on the terms Tofanelli wanted. Third District Supervisor Michael Olivera, who had indicated he was open to Regulation, and is up for re-election this year, remained mute. Thus, for want of a second to the motion, three votes were not enough to Regulate Commercial Marijuana in Calaveras County. It is stunning to think about.
Tofanelli then decided to teach Garamendi a lesson: he called for a motion to Ban Commercial Marijuana, it was moved and seconded by Ban proponents Supervisors Mills and Fifth District Supervisor Clyde Clapp, and Tofanelli voted with them.
To be clear, Gary Tofanelli voted to Ban commercial marijuana after first making a motion to Regulate Commercial Marijuana. Gary Tofanelli was against Commercial Marijuana before he was for it, before he was against it again.
After the vote, Supervisor Garamendi all but admitted his mistake and begged for re-consideration of Regulations saying, “we’re so close.” But in addition to that being administratively impossible, Tofanelli then gave an impassioned statement saying in effect “I’m in charge here, and every time I turn around I’m getting dis-respected by Jack Garamendi, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Where Are We Now?
After the vote, Supervisor Olivera made an impassioned plea to “let the people decide,” and a timetable was worked out to perhaps bring language for ballot measure(s) regarding commercial marijuana to the Supervisors for approval in time for the June election. Significant questions remain:
First, is it redundant to ask the voters to Ban commercial marijuana, since that is now the law of Calaveras County?
Second, can a bitterly divided Board even be able to decide on specific language in time to meet the deadlines? All Ban proponents need do is throw enough sand in the gears to cause the process to slow down, as there is no extra time for Supervisors to act – any delay could mean missing the window for the June election.
Finally, can a ballot measure Regulating Commercial Marijuana realistically hope to win in 2018 after being defeated in 2016? Has enough changed to cause enough voters to change their minds to Regulate or has public opinion even gone more in favor of a Ban?
We’ll take a look at these last questions, after we get answers to the first two, with our next article on Potilics later this month. See you then!