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One lane bridges and what they mean to Plumas County

Chandler Road passes over the confluence of Spanish and Greenhorn creeks on one of Plumas County’s many one-lane bridges. I use it frequently, and always relish the moment.

Think of the one-lane bridge nearest to you. You’ve met a car coming the other way, and figured out easily who crosses first. One driver pulls over at a wide spot and waits. Common courtesy here, nothing unusual. You could probably find a regulation on this in the driving code, if necessary, but it isn’t. Not here. Not yet. No stop signs, even.

We never ask the oncoming driver at a Plumas County one-lane bridge about his age, religion or politics. No, we cooperate for the common good: a simple formula, but rare. Our County preserves a culture of courtesy at its one-lane bridges by a long tradition of “do unto others” and the rule of law.

An aggressive driver could force his way across these bridges, refusing to yield. Somebody might even get hurt and property be destroyed. People stop trusting one another. Social contract gets broken, community undermined. Then Public Works might put up stop signs. Stop signs and laws become necessary only where a culture of courtesy fails, and becomes “every man for himself.” When did you last drive your car in Los Angeles? During five years living in Philadelphia, common rudeness in traffic amazed me. I’ve never been to Singapore or Bangkok, but I’ve heard some. Consistent enforcement of existing laws might encourage people to drive courteously, in theory — though increasingly laws do not restrain the lawless.

We’re all good people, and we’re all potential barbarians; we can default to forcing our preferences on others–the rule of power. But the rule of law, carried on for a long time, promotes a culture of courtesy, or only slows our descent into barbarity. Rule of law takes constant effort, and yes, enforcement. Nothing comes as easy to us as law-breaking in self-interest. Law keeping takes effort.

Plumas County cannabis growers claim to love the rule of law. “Please regulate us,” they say. They’re compassionate, generous, law-abiding — so long as they write the law and so long as the money rolls in. When laws threaten their profits and they plead, “Don’t make us criminals,” we wonder. If they loved the common good in the rule of law, they could as easily stop growing cannabis, learn a trade, perhaps grow food. But that’s apparently not on the table. They are more committed to growing cannabis than to following the law for the common good. No one can change a law-breaking commitment into a law-keeping one just by changing the laws. They boast, threaten and demean those who are working for laws that consider all Plumas County “priority citizens” rather than simply considering growers “priority citizens.”

Our Supervisors have put up a stop sign. They’ve set a brief moratorium on growing to consider the common good. Now’s the growers’ chance to show that they honor the rule of law: they could stop at the stop sign. This growing season they can “stick to their six,” growing each plant as large as their skills allow. By keeping this law, they could show that they value law-keeping and the common good more than they love personal profit. They could even show their compassion and generosity rather than solely self-interest. They could even donate any surplus to those in need. This moratorium offers growers a unique opportunity to demonstrate good faith and generosity not ruled by profit motive.

Instead, some growers have declared, “You can’t stop us; we’ll grow anyway,” by which they mean commercial — more than their legal six. When they say this (they may not advertise what they do), they tip their hand, showing they actually despise the rule of law for the common good.

Will the growers wait for the laws to change, or gun their engines for a rush on the bridge? Better stay back; if they hit that stop sign, they’ll send it, and a lot of other things, flying. Cannabis commerce has so far shown itself a friend to its own interest and the enemy to common courtesy and public responsibility. Watch what happens next.

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