Charles Benner: In the wake of Measure W: support cannabis farmers, help them prosper | TheUnion.com

Charles Benner: In the wake of Measure W: support cannabis farmers, help them prosper

Other Voices
Charles Benner

This June will mark two years since Measure W was defeated soundly at the polls by a margin of almost 20 percent.

What did the voters say when they voted no on W? No one seems to know, other than that the voters rejected an outdoor ban on marijuana cultivation.

But what do the voters really want? For all the money and time spent on a ballot measure, the supervisors failed to take a survey of voter opinion, and so they are lacking clarity as to the true will of the people.

I did take a survey. During the four days before the election, I interviewed 87 Nevada County voters in an effort to document a cross-sectional representation of voter opinion. Eighty-seven people, interviewed at random, over three days, in four locations and 15 hours of in-depth conversations, held strong opinions on all sides of the issue expressed in Measure W.

For almost two years the spirit of Measure W has been ignored. ... I can see why Alliance members are disheartened.

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The question I asked was, "Why are you voting Yes or No on Measure W?"

What I learned is that the "no" voters want the supervisors to do more than just get out of the way. They expect them to support cannabis farmers and to help them prosper.

The majority in the Nevada County did not simply vote "no" to the ban. They voted "yes" to legal cannabis farming. They said they do not want prohibition in any form. They want full regulation, taxation, and support for a vibrant cannabis economy.

The "no" voters want the supervisors to look ahead 10 years from now, where this county could be pioneering once again, this time as a world leader of the highest quality cannabis cultivation. The voters want the benefits this cottage industry will bring to all of its citizens.

Since the supervisors apparently found no direction from Measure W, they had to spend over $100,000 this past year to form a Community Advisory Group to study the problem. And while everyone in the group did learn more, and both sides liked each other better, and there was a lot of civic pride about being a role model for other counties, and they did recommend a future for cannabis farming, in the end, there was still a lot of disagreement.

But the CAG did vote for some specific things. They were asked to vote, on a six-level scale, from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The question: Should the county allow, on residential/agricultural zoned properties, of 2 acres or more, the permitting of a state specialty cottage outdoor license? Nine of the 16 members voted strongly agree or agree. A majority was in favor of the 2-acre specialty outdoor cottage license.

Picture my friend Sandra, a small cannabis farmer, living on 2 1/2 acres, trying to survive and keep her home. A state outdoor cottage license is Sandra's dream of success. A chance to be a good citizen and live in peace on her farm. Her dream is modest: A license to grow 25 plants, without fear, where she has already been growing for the past 10 years, and is good at it.

A month after it appeared that Sandra's farm was saved, a vote for a 3 acre minimum was introduced at the final meeting — it won, too. And then county staff included only the 3-acre vote in their final recommendations. Now Sandra's dream of a specialty license may be gone.

A CAG member from the cannabis alliance who supports the farmers said, "the results were drafted with a bias and should not be considered."

"If the board acts according to these recommendations," he said, "… it will be the third time during this ordinance process that they ignored the input of those they requested input from."

For almost two years the spirit of Measure W has been ignored. And now even a majority vote of the Community Advisory Group might be overlooked. I can see why Alliance members are disheartened. They see how the board's actions affect real people. Real people like my friend Sandra.

The fate of this county is on the line. The people have spoken clearly, as I witnessed in depth during my survey on Measure W. These voices represent the will of the people who have voted for open and legal cannabis farming in our county.

If the supervisors want to use Measure W to inform their governance, they must focus on supporting cannabis farmers and helping them to prosper.

Charles Benner lives in Grass Valley.