CA: Calaveras County Cannabis Farm Inspections To Continue, For Now

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The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors wants inspections of cannabis farms and related enforcement of county codes to continue, at least for now.

The board on Tuesday voted without dissent to approve a contract for up to $50,000 to hire California Highway Patrol officers to accompany code enforcement officers when they make their first, unannounced visits to farms with pending registration applications.

The funding will come from $3.7 million in fees that commercial cannabis growers paid when they submitted registration applications.

The CHP help is needed because the Calaveras County Sheriffs Office hasnt been able to provide deputies to assist as often as needed. The Sheriffs Office is chronically understaffed and finds itself competing with other, wealthier law enforcement agencies seeking to hire a shrinking supply of entry-level officers.

Sherriff Rick DiBasilio said that in addition to the demand to escort code enforcers during inspections, his office is also facing challenges in completing hundreds of background checks and responding to hundreds of complaints made to the agencys marijuana complaint phone line.

It is a combination of everything. There is so much of it. We just dont have the manpower, DiBasilio said.

Ethan Turner, the deputy county counsel assigned to cannabis industry matters, said that sheriff deputies have been available to accompany code enforcers on initial cannabis farm inspections for only six days during the past two months.

They are really overworked and cant provide the support code enforcement needs, Turner said.

Before Tuesdays meeting, it was an open question whether the $50,000 expenditure would win approval. Supervisor Michael Oliveira in May voted against the urgency ordinance that set up a system of rules to regulate the countys cannabis farms. And Supervisor Clyde Clapp, who was sitting in his first meeting as a supervisor after being elected in November to replace recalled Supervisor Steve Kearney, has said he favors banning commercial cannabis production.

Those two votes could have been enough to kill the proposal and keep the inspections on a slow track. Because it is a mid-year allocation, the expenditure required approval from at least four of the boards five members.

But Oliveira said he wanted to give a fair shake to the cannabis farmers who paid $5,000 fees for a chance to register their farms. He also said he wants law enforcement to be present for safety, to get everyone back home.

The vote was 4-0-1, with board Chairman Cliff Edson absent.

The action came during a meeting in which the board also heard a detailed report on the progress of efforts to register the almost 1,000 cannabis cultivation sites for which applications were filed. Edson, the boards chairman, had asked for the report. He was absent Tuesday, however. Board Vice Chairman Chris Wright said a medical problem caused Edsons absence.

In a few weeks, the composition of the board will change even more as supervisors Dennis Mills, Jack Garamendi and Gary Tofanelli are sworn in. They will replace Ponte, Wright and Edson, respectively. Ponte, Wright, Edson and Kearney supported the effort to rein in the cannabis industry with regulation. The newcomers to the board have generally been critical of regulation and some even have come out in favor of a ban.

Many cannabis farmers were present at Tuesdays meeting to listen to Maurers report and to comment on several cannabis-related items. They also gave a standing ovation to Ponte near the beginning of the meeting when Wright read a proclamation honoring Ponte for her service on the board.

Caslin Tomaszewski, president of the Calaveras Cannabis Alliance, thanked Ponte for having the guts to see for yourself who we are.

He said that Ponte was willing to speak with people in the industry at a time when other county leaders still shunned them. Thank you. We will never forget that chance, Tomaszewski said to Ponte.

In other cannabis-related matters, the board:

Voted 3-1-1, with Edson absent, to authorize the Sheriffs Departments to spend $100,000 to buy a laser device that will improve the accuracy and speed of measurement of cannabis farms. Ponte was opposed.

Voted 4-0-1 to approve hiring incentives for sheriff deputies, including $2,000 toward moving costs and a $5,000 signing bonus. Candidates would have to remain with Calaveras County three years to receive the full $5,000 signing bonus.

Maurers report on the status of registration efforts prompted lengthy discussion among both board members and the public.

Tomaszewski and Bill McManus, a proponent of banning commercial cannabis production, agreed that the biggest challenge facing the county is the struggle to hire enough staff members.

The staffing bottleneck in the Planning Department is reflected in the fact that staff members there have yet to review the application files for 477 of the commercial cannabis applications. Another 191 have at least been reviewed but still await inspection, making a grand total of 668 commercial applicants that have yet to be inspected.

Maurer said he has been able to hire three temporary employees to help with the cannabis registrations.

We could use 20 people to handle the workload. But that is not feasible right now, Maurer said.

No one knows what will happen in January once the new board is seated. Cannabis industry insiders said that investors are no longer sending their dollars here while they wait to see what county officials will do. And Maurer said he does not yet know whether the county will be forced to return registration fees to growers in the event that county leaders decide to terminate the regulated, legal industry.

There are a lot of unknowns given what the new board may or may not do, Maurer said.

Maurer did say that commercial growers who succeed in getting registered there were 19 as of Monday will be able to continue farming for a year from the date of the registration, assuming that a system of legal, regulated cannabis farms continues within the county. He could not predict what would happen if leaders decided to eliminate the system of regulation. The original intent of the board when the urgency ordinance was adopted was to eventually craft a permanent ordinance.

It is also unclear whether Calaveras County will ever reap significant tax revenue from the industry.

Calaveras County Counsel Megan Stedtfeld said in response to a question from Ponte that under the Measure C cannabis tax approved by voters in November, the tax will take effect Jan. 1 and the first bills will go out in the spring. But Stedtfeld said that revenue will never be collected if county leaders decide before them to eliminate cannabis as a legal, regulated industry. Then there is nothing to tax and no bill would go out, she said.

Depending on the number of farms that are ultimately registered, officials have estimated the tax could bring in more than $10 million a year. So far, however, county staff members have rejected the registration applications for 50 farms, more than twice the number approved.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Calaveras County Cannabis Farm Inspections To Continue, For Now
Author: Dana Nichols
Contact: 209-754-3861
Photo Credit: Dana Nichols
Website: Calaveras Enterprise