Jesse Hicks: No on W, here’s why
June 13, 2016
When it comes to the county officials' arguments in favor of Measure W, there are a few places where I see eye to eye.
First, I agree that environmental concerns around improper grows are real. Wildlife poisoning, water theft and watershed pollution are criminal issues that need to be dealt with. Additionally, it makes sense that medium or large scale cultivation should not occur in residential neighborhoods.
I also agree with Supervisor Miller and Sheriff Royal in their assertion, from the June 7 voter pamphlet, that Nevada County is "'legendary' for pot cultivation." They are absolutely right. Nevada County is legendary for its top quality outdoor cannabis. It has both an ideal climate and tremendous intellectual capital, in the form of expert growers who have been farming the plant here for generations.
It's surprising then, that despite this understanding of our community, the county board and sheriff are not creating a sensible regulatory framework that will allow Nevada County to take advantage of its legendary reputation, and prepare it for California's inevitable, multi-billion dollar, legal cannabis industry. It's especially shocking considering the state presented a great starting place for such regulation with the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. Instead, they have prohibited one of the things that Nevada County does best. If voters affirm this illogical ordinance and pass Measure W, we will not only ban outdoor grows, a travesty in and of itself, but all "commercial cultivation," both medical now and recreational when that's legal. Whether you think cannabis is good or bad is a fine moral judgment, but if we turn that judgement into law, we will deny Nevada County its share of one of the most prosperous and sustainable industries it's ever had the chance to be a part of.
So why have our leaders enacted a ban? It's hard to say for sure, but this paper reported that Sheriff Royal thinks cannabis shouldn't be legal and that alcohol is bad. The Sheriff is entitled to those opinions, but, in addition having earned over $70 million last year for Colorado, studies show that legal cannabis also brought a decrease in crime. Still, let's give the sheriff the benefit of the doubt and say, OK, cannabis and alcohol can be bad. Does that mean a county should ignore it's "legendary" attributes in regards to such substances and ignore a tremendous market advantage?
What if, decades ago, the people of Napa County decided that, since alcohol can be bad, they should ban commercial wine making in their county? Would it have stopped people from drinking wine? Of course not. And since there were already dozens of winemakers in Napa, would it have turned them into criminals and decreased their incentive to use best practices? Almost certainly. But most importantly, it would have denied Napa the opportunity to do what it's great at and develop an industry that has brought prosperity to the county for generations. Now we might not be the Napa County of cannabis – that title would probably go to a member of the Emerald Triangle – but we could certainly vie for the Sonoma.
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If our lawmakers allow it, the future of cannabis in Nevada County could be very much like the wine industry in other parts of the state. Or like legal cannabis in Colorado. I'm a partner in a branding agency that has consulted with some such companies. They are highly professional, risk-averse enterprises. They are not the kind of operations that would illegally dump trash or steal water, as a prominent winery wouldn't do such a thing, because both rely on state sponsored permits and have way too much at stake.
Since we have the opportunity to build this industry from the ground up, we can make it even better than wine. It can be one not of negligent outlaws, but of regulated organic farmers, botanical scientists and product innovators. It can create jobs in the community and keep the young and educated form leaving. Grows can be designated to appropriate agricultural zones, permits can be limited in number, county natives can be favored, and the costs for enforcing regulation can be easily paid for by permitting fees placed upon the industry.
Or we can ban outdoor and commercial cannabis and watch as other California counties prosper in the legal medical and recreational landscape, probably with an inferior product to what we would have produced.
The choice is ours. On June 7, vote for prosperity, and vote No on Measure W.
Jesse Hicks lives in Nevada City.
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