It is apparent that Sheriff Darren Thompson plans to use data from applications voluntarily submitted by commercial-scale medical cannabis growing operations against them, because the sheriff believes such operations may exist contrary to the urgency medical marijuana ordinance passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors last September.
That ordinance added a new chapter to the county code to restrict and regulate marijuana cultivation within the county. The ordinance exempted marijuana crops that can be proven to have been under cultivation as of Sept. 27, 2016, but would terminate once harvested by Dec. 31, 2016. All other marijuana grows would not be exempt after Dec. 27, 2016. The ordinance was approved to become in effect for 45 days and was subsequently extended beyond that period by a vote of supervisors. That ordinance could be extended in increments up to a total of two years, as the staff and medical marijuana ad hoc committee works on the development of a new, permanent ordinance.
Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, was on the November 8, 2016 ballot in California as an initiated state statute. Supporters referred to the initiative as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. It was approved state-wide at 57% with San Benito County voters approving the ballot box initiative at 55%. Thus, there is a clear conflict between the will of county voters and the will of the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s office with respect to the administration of justice and enforcement protocol regarding medical marijuana – and potentially recreational marijuana – operations in San Benito County.
California joined seven states and the District of Columbia that have passed laws allowing for the personal possession and consumption of cannabis by adults. Generally, this means a policy that supports a legally controlled market for marijuana, where consumers can buy marijuana for personal use from a safe, taxed and regulated legal source.
Sheriff Thompson has gone on record recently declaring his reluctance to follow California cannabis laws he sees as contradictory to federal laws that prohibit cannabis as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance. However, as an elected official he has chosen a peculiar time to request resources from supervisors seeking to mount a commercial-scale medical cannabis eradication campaign in San Benito County, seeking to arrest, prosecute and eradicate crops or expend valuable resources in the pursuit of that goal.
A reasonable person might suspect Sheriff Thompson and DA Hooper – both up for re-election next year – of political posturing, seeking to not only make a point, but drive a wedge between supervisors developing medical and/or recreational cannabis ordinances to which he and DA Hooper disagree with or choose not to support.
A few years ago, the Board of Supervisors supported the DA and Sheriff’s office dedicated resources, man-hours and considerable legal expenses attempting to force Purple Cross RX – a legal Prop. 215 medical marijuana operation – out of business, only to become party to a legal settlement that enables that medical cannabis operator to cultivate and manufacture Prop. 215 products in San Benito County. The terms of that settlement, according to sources, mandate that those products be sold outside of the county, thereby denying itself tax revenue. In my opinion, that is the very definition of a failed and dysfunctional public policy agenda governing medical cannabis operations. Do we really need to learn that painful lesson again?
San Benito County is a poor county with a lack of funding to support critical infrastructure repair – such as our crumbling and dangerously failing roads – while it struggles to staff public services including law enforcement, fire department resources and community social services. I submit we don’t have the resources to pursue a politically motivated witch hunt against a nascent cannabis industry seeking to comply with county ordinances as they are being developed, while simultaneously seeking to become compliant with applicable state laws in preparation to do business in our community next year, as county voters affirmed by supporting Prop. 64 last year.
The San Benito County Board of Supervisors should take the long view regarding medical and/or recreational cannabis public policy, seeking the cooperation of commercial-scale cannabis operations and thus refuse to support the anti-cannabis agenda of the Sheriff and District Attorney.
And if Sheriff Thompson and District Attorney Hooper cannot support the will and the mandate of San Benito County voters directing elected officials to follow applicable cannabis laws in California, they should not seek re-election for their respective offices in 2018.
By Michael Smith