Last week, Calaveras County’s new Board of Supervisors banned all marijuana cultivation within its boundaries. This rural county the size of Rhode Island has a population of 44,000. Financially challenged, it needed the money the previous Board thought legalizing cultivation would bring.
That Board legalized marijuana cultivation for medical use in 2016 after a devastating fire destroyed more than 500 homes the year before. Owners sold their burned-out property to cash-laden pot growers desperate for farmland in anticipation that Proposition 64 would pass and vastly increase demand for a legal product.
Motivated by being able to tax legal growers, officials expected to receive some 250 growing applications. They got three times that. By last week, about 200 had been approved. About the same number were rejected, and the rest were being processed. Another 1,000 illegal grow sites had flooded the county as well. Last year, authorities cut down some 30,000 plants from just 40 such sites.
Last October, Supervisor Dennis Mills released a hair-raising report, Cultivating Disaster, on the unparalleled damage so many growers have done to the county’s environment. The report is an assessment by local, state, and federal agencies, academic institutions, and journalists’ accounts of the environmental devastation cultivation has brought to the county. Below is a picture from the report showing abandoned containers of fertilizers and other chemicals used at just one site.
Suddenly the $10 million in taxes and fees the county took in from licensed growers last year paled in comparison to the estimated $1.2 billion cost to clean up the environmental mess in Calaveras County.
The backlash was so intense that this month citizens removed four of the five members of the Board of Supervisors who legalized cultivation and replaced them with candidates who had vowed to ban it if elected.