Paul Berger: Has the Nevada County Board of Supervisors abdicated its responsibility?
May 3, 2016
I attended the Measure W forum at Peace Lutheran Church featuring Supervisor Dan Miller and California Growers Association chair Jonathan Collier.
Not knowing the details, I wanted to find out why the board would put on the ballot a punitive measure that totally bans outdoor marijuana cultivation and sets strict highly restrictive limits on indoor cultivation.
Collier was polite, even deferential. He conceded the horrors wreaked upon the community by outlaw criminal growers in our county. But he said we, the honest growers, agree with you on that issue. We want regulation, licensing, so that you can go after the bad guys and let us make an honest living. Instead, you have put on the ballot a punitive measure that will hardly deter the bad guys (who are already brazenly violating the law) and will put a target on the backs of all honest growers who have taken pains to act within the law.
Dan Miller's argument went something like this: We, the Board, have been getting lots of complaints from citizens throughout the county about the evils of illegal pot cultivation: noxious odors, gun violence, spoliation of the environment, usurpation of groundwater. Most of the complainants have chosen to remain anonymous, fearing retribution. So we decided to draw a line in the sand by banning all outdoor cultivation, regardless of whether it for medical purposes or not. We are eliminating the "gray area" so the Sheriff can go after any outdoor marijuana wherever it is spotted. We are sending a message to the criminals that "your activities will not be tolerated here."
“ ... so you’re admitting that the board wanted to make the law as difficult to change as possible by crafting it as a ballot measure. But why shouldn’t our future elected leaders have the right to determine that all or parts of this law are ill-advised and should be changed?”
But when it came to answering questions, Miller's logic totally fell apart. What about the evidence that the War on Drugs has been a failure and the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s was such a dismal failure that it was repealed? Well, Miller offered, we are trying prohibition here for the first time with Measure W. Let's see if this one works. Sure, Dan. Criminals are certain to cease their illegal and highly profitable pot business conducted in secrecy deep in the forest if we pass a law that makes it illegal to grow a single marijuana plant outdoors, even if grown in conformance with all applicable laws and for a medical purpose. That makes sense.
Given the ever-changing landscape of marijuana regulation, why did the board choose to make Measure W a ballot measure, thereby making it impossible for future boards to repeal or amend it? The way it stands, if Measure W passes, the only way to change it in the future would be through another ballot measure at taxpayer expense. Well, says Miller, we did it because we knew that the composition of the future board might change. OK, Dan, so you're admitting that the board wanted to make the law as difficult to change as possible by crafting it as a ballot measure. But why shouldn't our future elected leaders have the right to determine that all or parts of this law are ill-advised and should be changed? Is Miller suggesting that the current board sees itself as a super-board, such that it can take advantage of the current wave of revulsion against illegal marijuana activity to enshrine into concrete a foolish and morally bankrupt law that throws the baby out with the bathwater?
Miller's purported rationale of "eliminating the gray area" fell apart when it was pointed out that he had previously made comments suggesting that, if an individual wants to grow a few marijuana plants in his or her garden, it would be OK under Measure W. Don't such comments create the very "gray area" in the law that he wants to eliminate? Miller shuffled around this question by suggesting he was half-joking when he made those comments, thereby making the "gray area" that he seeks to abolish, even grayer.
Finally, Miller was asked what would happen if Measure W fails. Well then, we the Board, will sit down with all stakeholders (presumably including legal growers of medical pot) to craft a law that carefully balances the needs of medical marijuana patients with the complaints of the community about out-of-control cultivation.
This raises the obvious question: Why didn't you do this in the first place, Dan? Why did you and the board instead ram through a ballot measure that was dictated to you by the Sheriff whose job, I thought, was to enforce the laws, not make them? Has the board abdicated its responsibility to listen to and balance all viewpoints and interests before taking the extraordinary measure of putting a Draconian, highly controversial measure on the ballot?
Maybe some other supporter of Measure W will come up with better answers to these uncomfortable questions than did Supervisor Miller. Until then, I am persuaded that we should dump Measure W and make the board do the job it was elected to do in the first place.
Paul S. Berger lives in Nevada City.