Personally? If someone could promise me I would never smell pot again, it would be 40 years too late. Nevertheless, as a matter of public policy, I will make a law and order argument in favor of limited commercial cannabis production in Plumas County. In order to take back control of cannabis policy, the Board of Supervisors should quickly enact an interim measure to “grandfather” the licenses of producers who had permits in this county in previous years. In essence, they should legislate the status quo of 2016.
Currently, the county is increasingly trapped between a pretense of re-established prohibition, on one hand, and a program of large-scale, sophisticated operations on the other. The MAUCO initiative of the Keep Plumas Green will be on the November ballot. It allows operations of up to 22,000 square feet, and has licensing requirements so demanding that small producers will have difficulty complying. Yet, legally, it cannot be changed by a single word before or after the vote, except by a new initiative. If MAUCO fails, the Moratorium wins by sheer inertia. It was enacted out of caution and to gain time, but a severe electoral showdown will harden the political lines and make it the default outcome. The pretense that prohibition is enforceable will become a shared illusion, doomed to fail.
The Board cannot change the ballot initiative, but it can preempt it politically by creating a better alternative than the Moratorium. Voters will be less likely to uphold a large, rigid block of regulation if there is a rational, realistic course of action under way.
Realistically, Plumas is probably a middle level cannabis producing county in California. For simplicity, past production can be thought of in three categories, legal small plots, illegal small plots, and cartel grows. There are numerous producers in the county who have dutifully complied with licensing requirements under the old medical marijuana law and, as a part of that process, identified themselves to the Sheriff’s Office. As an interim solution, the Board could “grandfather” those licenses to the same people (working in the same locations) who have operated them in the last few years. Done properly, this would achieve three things.
First, the legal producers would be limited to those who have already shown themselves responsible in the context of our community. Most Plumas County residents do not even know that there have been legal producers here for many years. If they are that innocuous, they can serve as models for what works here now. So, the Board should require reporting on water, pesticide, and fertilizer use, and a survey the neighbors.
If this has to be self-reporting, then so be it, but I would be surprised if this kind of research were not immune to FDA bans on studying the drug itself. There must be an enterprising Ag professor or grad student out there somewhere. Eight or nine months from now, Plumas County might become the only jurisdiction in America to make its cannabis decisions on the basis of hard data that applies locally.
Second, we could better manage the threat of crime by funding the fight against cartel production. My single greatest concern with attempting to reinstitute prohibition is that it plays into the hands of the cartels. For decades, the laws against cannabis have been all stick and no carrot, and use remains at about 10 percent of the population (one time experimenters, and former users would be much larger statistics). Trying to suppress production with less funding, and lower penalties can be expected to yield a predictably bad result. Illegal small production will expand, but growers will be reluctant to trust law enforcement to protect it from other sorts of crime.
This is a formula for inviting the cartel thugs to become, as the saying goes, “Police for people who cannot call the police.” That is the polite description for extortion, protection rackets, and the like. Powerful bad people will protect you from weaker bad people, and punish you if you resist buying their very expensive “insurance.” If we have a solid structure of fees and taxes, and direct that funding to law enforcement, legal production could help pay for its own protection and for vigorous action against the cartel producers in the forest.
Third, local rules could create positive incentives to responsible behavior. At least in the early years, all legally produced cannabis might be required to sell at specific times and places, the way tobacco and other commodities have been sold at auction elsewhere. In this way, testing could be uniform and public, prices open to inspection, security simplified, and taxes would be transparent and enforceable. Producers could also be required to meet standards of chemical purity, and if they failed, the crop would be destroyed on site. Growers could form self-insurance pools to protect against complete loss in the case of sabotage.
The advantage here is that local regulation could give local producers an edge that other areas do not have. Other areas and growers are competing to achieve reputations for quality on a product that is basically not good for your health. I gather that a large proportion of California cannabis fails chemical testing. If it comes from here (and the state “track and trace” program can be used to show origin), it will be certified safer than the rest of the market can promise.
To me, nothing is ever going to make sense out of tearing up vegetation, putting it in your mouth, and setting it on fire. Also, I agree with Sheriff Hagwood that much depends on the attitude of the cannabis community. Giggly defiance has always been a part of the pot scene. If they now act like they can spike the ball in the end zone, no amount of sane, moderate reasoning is going to matter.
But reasonable measures are worth trying as part of the larger American recovery from an irrational drug control regime. For decades, cannabis has been put in the same class as heroin (and worse than meth). For decades, the powers that be have made us feel we had vigorous protection against dangerous drugs by arresting tens of millions of people for pot. For the same period, they have quietly promoted opioids that kill tens of thousands of American annually. Treating cannabis like alcohol and tobacco ends its function as the whipping boy of American drug control, and allows us to turn our attention and our taxes against the substances that are truly killing us.