This California county took in $3.7 million in pot fees. Now it might ban cultivation
Earlier in his work life, Prapanna Randall Smith earned a doctorate in educational leadership and founded a nonprofit elementary and preschool in San Diego County. Soon after retiring in 2011, he moved to forested Calaveras County to pursue another intellectual passion: growing marijuana.
The economically depressed county of 45,000 residents, a former mining and timber region, had an established pot growing tradition. And last year, after the devastating Butte Fire scorched vast areas of the county, destroying 860 houses, its Board of Supervisors plotted a comeback by seeking to monetize the thriving local marijuana culture by taxing and licensing for-profit cultivation.
Smith, who loves the science of climate-controlled indoor growing, was among the first to get a county permit. His Magic Show LLC cannabis business, located in a warehouse in a light industrial zone, has passed inspections by law enforcement and county code enforcement officials. He says he makes a good living selling to California medical marijuana dispensaries. But more importantly, Smith insists, pot production is giving his beleaguered county a chance to prosper.
“This can be one of the richest counties, per capita, in America,” he said.
Calaveras, however, is poised to become a less pot-friendly place. The Board of Supervisors now is considering reversing course and banning all commercial marijuana farms, complaining that the county’s cannabis business experiment is bringing in unwanted outsiders, rogue growers and environmental degradation.
But the board’s dilemma is that the county already is spending pot dollars. It has collected $3.7 million in fees from marijuana growers and hired additional police and staff while budgeting services with expectations of additional cannabis tax revenues. Layoffs loom if the supervisors approve the cultivation ban later this summer without a fiscal solution.
Last year, 737 marijuana growers with proof of residency met a June 30 deadline to pay fees of $5,000 each to apply for a permit for commercial cultivation. A ballot initiative passed by voters in November imposed a tax of $2 per square foot for outdoor gardens and $5 per square foot for indoor cultivation.
The county to date has approved 89 cultivation licenses, denied 137 applications for not meeting land use requirements and still is considering 478, with 33 would-be growers withdrawing their applications.
New supervisor Clyde Clapp says the conservative county’s embrace of marijuana liberalism is proving disastrous, pot revenues or not. He said Calaveras has become a destination for criminal growers who have no interest in operating in the legal marijuana economy, let alone in accordance with county rules.
Clapp is one of four new board members. Two incumbents who favored the county’s permissive marijuana regulations were defeated in November and two others previously decided not to seek re-election.
“We needed to push back. That’s why I ran for supervisor,” said Clapp, a local property manager who was elected on an anti-cultivation platform. “It’s basically like the Wild West out here.”
We suggest it is well worth reading the rest of the article it covers law enforcement, local politics and a lot more in between and is a salutary lesson for all thinking about managing their inward investment into California’s regulated cannabis market.