Medical marijuana is currently legal in California, and recreational marijuana is becoming legal in 2018, but many residents in Calaveras County are fighting commercial marijuana cultivation with a county-wide ban.
Members of the community, including Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio, seek to ban commercial marijuana cultivation in Calaveras County. Surrounding areas such as Amador, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus Counties have already banned commercial marijuana cultivation, and Calaveras County residents want to follow in their footsteps.
DiBasilio and the other Calaveras Country marijuana ban supporters were disappointed on Tuesday, Aug. 8, when the Board of Supervisors in San Joaquin overturned a ban on commercial marijuana cultivation. The vote was 3 to 2 to overturn the commercial marijuana cultivation ban; however, the ban will stay in place until regulations and ordinances can be implemented by the county.
County officials said that their vote is a reflection of the voters’ will in the November 2016 election, in which people voted to legalize marijuana and Proposition 64 was passed. The measure does not give recreational marijuana dispensaries the legal right to sell cannabis until Jan. 1, 2018, which is allowing those against legalizing commercial marijuana growing in Calaveras Country leverage against cultivators.
Why Ban A Commercial Marijuana Cultivation?
With recreational marijuana becoming legal in California next year, the state will be the biggest marketplace for legal cannabis in the world, but some unincorporated areas like Calaveras County say that they are the ones who will be affected the most.
Some farmers and law enforcement officials say that they are concerned about cartel gangs growing marijuana in Calaveras County illegally. They say a ban on commercial marijuana cultivation will protect their way of life and stop attracting criminals. Others complain that the scent from marijuana cultivation is bothersome or that the fertilizers and pesticides from marijuana cultivation will contaminate the environment.
Supporters of marijuana say that their concerns are irrational and have no basis in truth.
Calaveras County became popular to marijuana cultivators after the Butte Fire cleared miles of land in the Calaveras County hills. Marijuana farmers flocked to the area. Residents were selling their fire-damaged property cheap and the farmers were buying it.
County officials aimed to stop the land rush into the county by establishing mandatory fees on marijuana cultivators and by requiring special permits. The regulations were criticized by residents because they wanted no cultivation in the community whatsoever.
The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department, along with several California agencies including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Highway Patrol, the California Counterdrug Task Force, and the state’s Department of Water Resources, all spent several months planning the raids to enforce the ban.
Sheriff DiBasilio and other authorities had already begun the process of arresting of cultivators before the vote, with one of the raids ending with 27,000 plants being appropriated. The raid occurred on Aug. 3 and 35 people were arrested from over a dozen marijuana farms in Calaveras Country, as reported by the Associated Press.
DiBasilio told reporters that the four-day event was the biggest marijuana raid Calaveras Country has had to date, also stating in the news conference that illegal cultivators are not welcome there and that he would come for them. Search warrants were issued for 23 searches and officials say that they seized more than 25 tons of marijuana from the Calaveras Country raids total. Authorities also said that several guns were seized along with several thousand dollars in cash.
A Yuba County Rastafarian Church was one of the farms included in the raid and authorities confiscated 6,000 marijuana plants from the Church. The owner is a previous target of the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department.
Heidi Lepp and her ordained minister husband, Charles Lepp, believe in cannabis for religious purposes and sacraments. Charles Lepp spent 8 years in a federal jail for cultivating 20,000 marijuana plants in Calaveras Country previously, and the sheriff demolished their crops once before back in 2015.
Dibasilio Misused Legal Cannabis Fees
An auditor is saying that Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio has misused the one million dollars in fees that the county received from legal marijuana cultivators. The California auditor said that the sheriff used the money to raid illegal cultivators in the recent busts.
DiBasilio has denied misappropriating funds and defended himself by saying he believes raiding illegal operations are only enforcing legal marijuana regulations and that he used the funds properly.
The County Administrator said officials are updating the regulations to avoid further misappropriations by other law enforcement officials.
It doesn’t look like supporters of the Calaveras County marijuana ban or Sheriff DiBasilio is stopping their quest to enforce the commercial marijuana cultivation ban just yet, regardless of the vote. The debate continues because voters elected new County Supervisors in the last election, and some are expected to support the Calaveras County marijuana ban.
The fight is sure to continue in the meantime.