California’s Marijuana Mecca Bans Pot

Calaveras County’s foray into the world of commercial cannabis began, oddly enough, with a fire.

The 2015 Butte inferno had just devastated the already struggling northern California enclave popularized by 19th century author Mark Twain. The county needed something drastic to recuperate lost funds and revive its decimated economy. With few other industries to rely on (its lumber mills and gold mines closed decades ago), it turned to pot.

The county began welcoming hundreds of medical cannabis growers to the region, reaping substantial rewards in the form of taxes and fees. The county took in $3.7 million in cannabis permit fees in 2016. Cultivation taxes for the fiscal year 2016-2017 amounted to $5 million. Marijuana quickly became the county’s largest industry.

But not everyone was happy.

Along with the legal, regulated grows came scores of seedy operations and illegal activity. In addition to the sanctioned grows, the county planning department estimates there are 700 to 1,500 illegal farms in Calaveras today. As this article from Newsweek reveals, Mexican drug cartels are believed to be using the legal drug trade to their advantage.

With crime rising and environmental damage flourishing, a growing number of residents in the traditionally conservative county began turning on the pot industry as a whole, even calling for the recall of those who spearheaded the experiment with pot.

Last week, their efforts came to a head.

By a 3-2 vote on Jan. 10, Calaveras County supervisors voted to ban all commercial marijuana grows in the county. They’re giving cultivators 120 days to clear out.

It’s a drastic turnaround for the epicenter of California’s mariconomy, and its economic and legal implications could be huge.

“If you thought the green rush was going to be bad, wait for the lawyer rush,” warned Bob Bowerman with the Calaveras National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

There was shouting, profanity, and even a physical altercation between attendees at Wednesday's meeting.

“We’re looking at turning the county on the fringe of being poor country to an even poorer county,” one farmer said. “We make our money here legally. We spend money at the hardware store, grocery store and laundry store.”

It’s unclear how this decision will ultimately play out in Calaveras where pot has already brought so much cash -- and division. But one thing is for certain: for better or worse, Calaveras is turning over a new leaf.


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