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Residents plead for county to expedite cannabis growing ordinance

Residents turned out at a recent San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting to encourage them to move forward on a cannabis growing ordinance as quickly as possible after the passage of Measure C.
Rancher Lee Scazighini repeated his request to be allowed to grow marijuana on his south county property.
Attorney Aaron Johnson said the black market will continue until marijuana can be grown legally in the county.
Pinnacle Strategy President Victor Gomez was surprised at positive support for Measure C from south county residents.
Monterey Bay Alternative Medicine Co-Owner Lana Blodgett said when supervisors approve the ordinance, the economy will improve.

While San Benito County voters approved Measure C to create a tax for cannabis businesses located in the unincorporated area, it took little more than the weekend following the vote for supporters to show up en masse at the June 12 San Benito County Board of Supervisors Meeting to plead, and in some cases demand, that the long-delayed cannabis ordinance be placed on the next agenda. The Measure C tax will apply to both medicinal and recreational operations, but there is currently no ordinance on the books to allow for said operations.

Supervisors sent the cannabis business ordinance back to the ad hoc committee on July 18, 2017 to fine tune it, but it was simply a stalling tactic to wait and see what the voters would decide about Measure C. If Measure C were not to pass, then the supervisors would be off the hook and not have to make the decision on the ordinance, according to Supervisor Mark Medina.

By the June 12 county supervisor meeting, it was apparent that county voters, landowners, and cannabis entrepreneurs did not want to wait any longer for the ordinance.

South county rancher Lee Scazighini, who appeared before supervisors last March to ask that ranchers be allowed to grow cannabis to help save their operations, repeated his appeal at the June 12 meeting. He told supervisors that if they could start planting right away, the county could start receiving sales tax revenues by year’s end.

A cannabis cloning entrepreneur said if he sets up shop in the county, he would employ about 50 people. He said he preferred to do business in San Benito County rather than other counties because of the ideal climate, a ready workforce, and necessary infrastructure that is already in place. He said because he would be selling nursery clones rather than mature plants, revenues would be generated much sooner.

Attorney Aaron Johnson, who said he represented several cannabis applicants, highlighted issues in Monterey County to give supervisors an idea of possibilities for San Benito County. He told them of a legal grow that had contracted with an independent farm labor contractor who turned out to be involved in human trafficking.

“If it was not for the legal cannabis community that tip [to law enforcement] would not have come in to Monterey County,” Johnson said. He warned that as long as a black market operated in the industry, thefts of water and pesticide pollution would continue. “That changes as legalization occurs. We have an opportunity and the voters have spoken.”

Johnson said cannabis companies in Monterey County work continually with the county and law enforcement and the same can be expected in San Benito County that will drive the black market out of the area. Two-term city councilman and former Hollister Mayor Victor Gomez, now president of Pinnacle Strategy and a lobbyist for the cannabis industry, said he ran a positive campaign in support of Measure C.

“You are seeing the writing on the wall,” Gomez said. “The community is ready to move forward with an ordinance to allow cannabis operations in unincorporated San Benito County. A draft ordinance has already been written and may need some tweaking. Oddly enough, a lot of support I saw out there in the community came from [Supervisor] Jerry Muenzer’s district. I thought it would be more opposed, but ended up being highly supportive of Measure C. Please take into account what south county residents and ranchers are saying here today. We look forward to you agendizing this topic for discussion at your next meeting and wrap up this ordinance.”

Attorney Peter Brazil said he represented several cannabis operators who had to cease operations last year in order to comply with the county. He told supervisors the operators have substantial investments in the county and continue to wait for the ordinance to go into effect quickly. He said the minor tweaks needed to make that happen are readily solvable.

“I’m emphasizing ‘quickly’ because a lot of these operators are still invested in this county with mortgages on properties they may have purchased or leased structures,” Brazil said. “The longer this is delayed the more harm there is to them. They’re willing to sit here for due process, but there is a temporary licensing scheme within the state they will have to comply with that will only be available through January 2019, which is another reason to expedite this.”

Resident Dan Hudson asked supervisors to treat cannabis the same as any other crop. Competition is fierce and highly funded, he said, which leaves smaller operators at a disadvantage. He suggested an appellation approach, or geographical boundaries, where cannabis can be grown locally outside for maximum yields.

“Outdoor growing is something that could make us stand out from other counties,” Hudson said. “If you have a half-acre of cannabis in the middle of a wide-open field there won’t be any concerns about being a bad neighbor.”

Lana Blodgett, whose company Monterey Bay Alternative Medicine on June 4 received one of two permits to operate a medical cannabis dispensary in Hollister, also encouraged supervisors to expedite the ordinance.

“You’re creating a number of businesses from this multifaceted industry,” Blodgett said. “You’re going to see exponential growth, and the sooner that’s done the better the economy will be.”

Cannabis supporter Elia Salinas, who recently ran for San Benito County Supervisor District 4, said she voted against Measure C because the county has “…wasted months since the ordinance was written.”

“I request that the board agendize this for the next meeting and direct staff to work on an ordinance that has already been presented to the board and just needs to be tweaked,” Salinas said. “We are running out of time to plant in the spring.”

Salinas said while those who seek to obey the law ceased growing when told to do so, others ignored the county.

“The sheriff says his hands are tied,” Salinas said. “I think the sheriff should go out there and start enforcing. The black market continues to grow.”

Board Chair Anthony Botelho commented that supervisors should begin moving forward with the ordinance as quickly as possible.

Requests for further details on the potential cannabis ordinance sent to the entire board of supervisors and county legal counsel went unanswered.

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About:
John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

John Chadwell is an investigative reporter for BenitoLink. He has many years experience as a 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

Regardless of one's personal position on pot, it's hard to believe that the Board of Supervisors - after all this drama - put a measure on the ballot, but had obviously not planned or been prepared to act if it passed WHICH WAS THE MOST LIKELY OUTCOME based on previous votes regarding this issue.

Is it any wonder we are years behind on just about everything, from bridges to bird nests at the county level?  Wake these folks up and tell them the future is coming on all fronts and subjects whether they like it or not.

Disclosures:  I opposed legalizing pot at the state level as long as it was still illegal at the Federal level, but once the Feds said they could care less and were not going to even enforce their own laws the law itself became a moot point.  I'd rather not have a law on the books than have one that is intentionally ignored by everyone; that sends a really bad message.  I was neutral overall on Measure C, but do not like the sliding tax rate.

Those who opposed Measure C had as much right to do so as those who supported it.  The issue was never about medical pot anyway, it was always about money and recreational pot and I seriously doubt that it will make some massive difference in our fiscal position, nor will it kill the black market although it may slow it down a little and it may dampen alcohol sales a bit.

Although the pot tax income goes to the General Fund, the individual Supervisors should pledge to use it to fund enforcement first and general public safety second before the other demands on the public purse.  Without enforcement there is the potential of a lot of serious problems.

Marty Richman

Submitted by (Rob Bernosky) on

This is exactly what was predicted. Advocates for marijuana came out in droves while non-users said "Go ahead and tax it; it won't affect me." Then the advocates for would use that nonchalance as a proxy for being able to say "The public overwhelmingly want marijuana in their backyard!" 

Be that as it may, the promise of the elected and the advocates was that the tax revenues would be huge and be used for more law enforcement bodies, wider, and repaired roads, so I guess we will start to see all of that starting to happen. The evidence will be when we actually have deputies patrolling south county, traffic congestion in and out of the county gone, potholes gone, and roads repaved.  I look forward to experiencing that.

Submitted by Joe Chargin on

Rob,

Please remember this is San Benito County!!!  You will not see your "improvements" in your lifetime!!!  We have a better chance of the county going bankrupt with the current Board of Stupidvisiors!!!

Submitted by (Rob Bernosky) on

All I know is what was promised by the advocates and the candidates supportive of the measure.   More law enforcement, better roads, due specifically by embracing the marijuana  industry here in San Benito County.

Regardless of the two previous revisionist perspectives about cannabis being all about money, it is also true that sick and dying patients in San Benito County or their caregivers who had a physician's recommendation pursuant to Prop 215 - also supported by a majority of county voters more than 20 years ago - had to travel to other counties to obtain their medicine due to Draconian public policy to prohibit cannabis collectives here.

It is also true that because it took so long for the local public deliberation process to play out that in the interim the state electorate voted to tax and regulate cannabis sales for adult use in California thus expanding the consumer market scale exponentially which the cannabis industry responded to vigorously.

Cannabis opponents and naysayers are entitled to justify their retrospective analysis of the situation, but the facts and results speak for themselves. SBC voters have mandated that public policy be crafted to facilitate the taxation and regulation of cannabis cultivation, production/manufacture, peer reviewed scientific analysis, transportation/distribution and retail sales of recreational/medical products to meet market scale.

Cannabis should now be treated with the same respect and regard as other adult use beverages and products - such as wine or beer - produced in the county under similar lawful restrictions and regulations. Nobody scrutinizes the fiscal impacts of alcohol sales and tax revenues towards law enforcement or infrastructure improvement but the evil weed must now cure all the county's fiscal revenue issues because that promise was implicit to voters passing Measure  C. Completely false. 

Congratulations to Jim Gillio. Please do the right thing here. 

Submitted by (Rob Bernosky) on

To be sure, the voters agreed to the taxation of cannabis when they voted for Measure C.  Nothing more.

Submitted by (Carol Feisthamel) on

The writing was on the wall when this Measure was put on the ballot. Talk about putting the cart before the horse.  There was NEVER to be any marijuana cultivation in the County EVER!   I heard all the talk about more Sheriff's coverage, no potholes, better roads, what a joke; since any tax dollars will go into the General Fund, don't hold your breathe waiting for any of that to happen.  The fact that the Supervisors now have to scramble on how to implement these taxes speaks volumes.   Typical San Benito County skullduggery.

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