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Ranchers plead for county to pass cannabis cultivation ordinance, as supervisors pass tax ordinance for June ballot

Before considering and then passing a resolution to place a cannabis use tax on the June primary ballot, a number of South County ranchers spoke to the board, asking that they pass the cultivation ordinance .
Lee Scazighini said cannabis could make his ranch profitable.
Cheri Scazighini said ranchers just want to do, legally, what cartels have been doing illegally around their ranch for years.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho said cannabis is just one revenue stream the county needs.

Several ranchers from South County appeared at the March 6 board of supervisors meeting to plead their case for the board to approve the county’s cannabis cultivation ordinance when it eventually comes back before them.

Lee Scazighini said he was there to show support of cannabis farming in South County, in the Hernandez Valley area, where he has an 800-acre ranch.

“My ranch has been in the family since 1939,” he said. “My mother’s family settled there in the 1800s. It’s never been easy to make decent living on our ground. We run a small cow-calf operation and lease out our hunting rights.”

Scazighini said the last 10 years, in particular, have been difficult due to the on-going drought and a decline in wildlife.

“Many of our neighbors and friends have been pressured to sell out to billionaire ranchers,” he said. “We feel that the cannabis growing business will be, for us, a good thing. If we could grow just a few acres, far away from any county roads, to make thousands [of dollars] and possibly millions down the road to the county for roads. Research shows that our climate in the Hernandez Valley over to the Fresno County line, we can grow some of the best cannabis in the world.”

He urged the supervisors to consider his plea as a win-win for the community. He said if the board passes the ordinance soon it will allow them enough time to obtain their licenses and permits, and start planting.

Lee’s wife, Cheri, who has lived on the ranch since 1998, told the board that on their ranch they have dealt with poachers and illegal drug operations for years. She said when they notified law enforcement about the illegal drug grows it took them weeks and even months before they showed up.

“In the meantime, I was raising a young child and there was very little protection for us,” she said. “We have worked very hard on the ranch to be as self-sufficient as possible. We have gardens and orchards, and have raised chickens, run cows and a hunting club. We’ve sold fire wood to make ends meet, yet I still had to get a job in Coalinga so we could afford medical insurance.”

She said her husband and two neighbors ran electricity three miles to their homes in 1995. She said he is a long-time resident and his heart and soul are in the land.

“Now that it is legal to grow cannabis we have an opportunity to make a living off our ranch,” she said. “We’re asking to do what the cartels have been doing illegally around our property for years. We’d like to be able to make enough money to put our daughter through college and to go off the grid completely in order to fulfill our dream of being self-sufficient on the ranch we love.”

She told the board the roads are terrible where they live and there is no law enforcement.

“The taxes you collect off legal cannabis could provide us with better roads and more law enforcement,” she said. “Please consider letting us grow in South San Benito County.”

Father and son, Richard and Doug Burkett described themselves as historic ranchers whose family has worked the land in South County since 1934. Doug said cannabis can be a godsend for their ranch.

“There’s quite a few of us in South County here representing our area to ensure a mutual agreement that we will be able to do what we want to grow [cannabis] instead of working our asses off and barely making it each year,” Doug said. “This can be a great opportunity for us and a great opportunity for you guys. We’ve got no problem paying our taxes and you can make money, also.”

Richard Burkett told the board that his grandfather established the ranch and that his son was a fourth-generation rancher.

“We’ve gone from turkeys at that time [1934] to hogs to cattle, and that’s what we currently do, a cow-calf operation,” Richard said. “It is tough. This drought has taken its toll on our grazing lands. We can’t raise as much cattle as we’d like to be able to do. I finally came over to the other side in realizing that this is a great opportunity, not only for the ranch, but the tax revenue that this could generate for the county.”

Richard said they and other ranchers keep to themselves and they don’t foresee any problems for the county if they were allowed to grow cannabis.

“If the sheriff’s worried about being able to get down there, well there’s only one way to Coalinga and one way out to King City,” he said. “So they [illegal operations] can be tracked down rather quickly. You just can’t get out of that area. So, we hope the county would reconsider and look at us as being able to create some revenue for the county.”

None of the supervisors addressed the ranchers' concerns, but later Supervisor Jerry Muenzer, whose district includes the area where the ranchers are located, told BenitoLink that the county continues to work to craft an ordinance that will allow property owners to cultivate cannabis without infringing upon the rights of their neighbors.

When asked if he thought as isolated ranchers their situation is any different than landowners closer to communities in the county, Muenzer said they are no different than anyone else.

“They have neighbors that may or may not be in favor of cannabis being grown next to them,” he said, “Where I learned that there is always an issue is before I was elected I was going to Planning Commission meetings and a representative of the Quien Sabe Ranch that owns most of the hills east of Hollister wanted to do some hunting lodges and a neighbor registered a protest. So, no matter how big your ranch is, there’s always a neighbor that may or may not have objections about what you want to do.”

Perhaps by coincidence, one of the agenda items the board would discuss later in the meeting and unanimously pass was a resolution to submit to voters for the statewide general election in June an ordinance to impose taxes on cannabis businesses.

When the agenda item concerning taxation came up, Louie Valdez, county analyst, reminded the board that on Dec. 12, 2017, they adopted an ordinance prohibiting cannabis businesses in the unincorporated area of the county. The board also directed county staff to come up with ways to mitigate known and unknown impacts of cannabis business through cost recovery (fees) and revenues (taxes), as well as, to continue to develop a cannabis business ordinance to bring back to the board.

Then on Feb. 20, 2018, the board gave directions to the staff to move forward with an ordinance and resolution to place a cannabis business activities tax measure on the June 5, 2018 ballot. The ordinance and resolution were drafted to reflect tax policy decisions by the board on March 6.

After a lengthy discussion, Supervisor Mark Medina commented that he wanted the ordinance on the June ballot because even though it is taxation, people realize it is only a tax on the cultivation of cannabis.

“I do want this on the June ballot, then we can proceed with the ordinance and we’ll have buy-in from the residents and not just the board members deciding on an ordinance of the whole cultivations process,” he said.

Board Chair Anthony Botelho said that while further discussions on the cultivation ordinance are coming it is important to establish revenue streams now to provide services.

“Cannabis is not going to solve our problems by itself,” he said. “It’s just one revenue stream. With support for this tax it will send a message to continue to move forward with an ordinance.”

The cultivation ordinance was supposed to come back before the board in April, but Muenzer told BenitoLink that might not happen.

“It may be June or July before it comes back to us,” he said. “Part of the problem is it is complicated. We have to get it aligned with our new General Plan and the land-use elements. It didn’t pass muster with the Planning Commission. Also, we don’t have a lot of staff. They’re spread pretty thin.”  

According to county documents, if approved by voters, the local Cannabis Business Activities Tax Measure would be in addition to the State’s tax on cannabis businesses. Relevant state provisions are:

1. Dry Weight Tax: $9.25 for every ounce of cannabis flower and $2.75 for every ounce of cannabis leaf. As the price of cannabis drops, a fixed amount represents a higher percentage of taxation per sales transaction. For example, if an ounce of flower sells for $200 the $9.25 tax results in a 4.63% tax. If, or maybe when, the price of an ounce of flower drops to $100 an ounce, the same dry weight charge of $9.25 is now a 9.25% tax. 2. 5% Excise Tax: 15% tax on all other cannabis activities. This is in addition to existing retail sales taxes.

2. The State of California makes no distinction between commercial recreational or medical cannabis.

3. The end consumer can avoid state and local sales tax if they possess a State issued Medical Marijuana Card. None of the other taxes are waived.

 

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About:
John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

John Chadwell is freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.

Comments

Submitted by (Robert E. Bernosky) on

A perfect example of the task ahead for County supervisors. If we are going to embrace marijuana on the promise of better roads and more law enforcement, then permanently link them together from the start. No additional law enforcement and better roads upfront? Then no allowing marijuana. The public must see the benefit and all unintended consequences mitigated in advance...or that’s what this future County supervisor in that district says!

From my view, a perfect example of the task ahead for county supervisors is to embrace the state standards for cannabis taxation and regulation which are based on the Alcohol Beverage Control protocol. I disagree that cannabis taxes should be applied and linked to funding better roads. Voters traditionally have chosen to tax themselves at the ballot box to fund the maintenance and reconstruction through Measure P-styled tax measures. You will recall that Measure P enjoyed bipartisan support in 2016 and failed by a few percentage points.

I also disagree that the public must see the benefit and all unintended consequences mitigated in advance, which is, of course, an oxymoronic statement. It would be impossible to apply that standard to cannabis, alcohol or any other drug in society. So you are, once again, applying your own confirmation bias against cannabis rather than listening to the voice of your constituents as is the case of the rural ranchers appealing to the BOS to facilitate cannabis cultivation for mutually beneficial financial reasons. You should be more honest and open about your anti-cannabis position so voters don't have to guess why they may vote for you.

The voters already spoke by supporting Prop. 64. Since you are obviously opposed to legal, taxed and regulated cannabis in San Benito County you should declare that platform position rather than inventing specious arguments and criteria and misleading constituents into supporting your candidacy for supervisor. The county doesn't need to elect more two-faced hypocrite politicians. 

Luckily for us the voters are NEVER wrong (warning, extreme sarcasm ).  Ok, the truth is that both the voters and legislators are wrong all the time and everyone knows it; they are only human.

The voter's decisions are never wrong by definition meaning they decide what they decide and that's their decision.  Trump or cannabis, it's all the same.  Votes are usually followed by statements such as, "That's not what I thought I was voting for" and it applies to everything when you get down to the nuts and bolts.

Now, as a practical matter (called problem solving) one may be able to fund enforcement in advance by doing a development agreement that gives back credit for taxes and/or fees or a by forming a special district; it happens all the time with housing developments and commercial arrangements.  Disregarding the cannabis part of the issue completely, South County has needed a multi-service officer presence for a long time.

That would be a combination Deputy Sheriff, Fire Evaluator (to help with fire evaluation and dispatch) and a First Responder for medical aid - it's expensive. They should have formed a special district in that area to pay for it before now.  There is some irony that people will go to great lengths when there is a potential profit to be made, but won't support those services when ONLY their property, safety, health and welfare are at stake.

What value do you put on your own life?  I probably over-value mine, but I believe that is the best position to take.

Marty Richman

Like wine grape ranchers in the early 20th century during prohibition, prospective cannabis ranchers want to utilize and capitalize on their land holdings to cultivate and market cannabis pursuant to state laws and regulations. From what I've experienced, legitimate cannabis industry experts who follow new state laws are in full support of taxation and regulation with which to support law enforcement's efforts to arrest and eradicate illegal growers and cartels operating in San Benito County.

The City of Hollister is leading by example in that regard, but San Benito County is lagging due to politics on the Board of Supervisors.

Rob Bernosky's juvenile and inane, off-the-cuff remarks reveal his lack of depth and deliberative understanding of due process towards prospective constituents because of his anti-cannabis sentiments and protestations. And he's not the only person foisting his regressive, anti-cannabis views on constituents who voted Prop. 64 into law so that adults 21 and over can legally purchase and consume cannabis products in San Benito County.

Sheriff Thompson, DA Hooper, Supervisors Botelho and Muenzer are all in opposition to the legal cannabis industry doing business in this county and are subverting the will of the voters in due course. I don't know who Bill Hutchison is or what his platform position is on cannabis, but if he is open to working with the cannabis industry as Sheriff he should be endorsed and supported by the cannabis industry pursuant to the will of the people who voted for Prop. 64.

Yes, let's elect progressive leaders who want to tax and regulate cannabis and support additional law enforcement and emergency response teams in San Benito County. 

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