Supervisor Burton

Bill Burton

Trinity County Board of Supervisors

Supervisor, District 4


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Photo by Talia Herman.

How do you perceive the marijuana farming industry in general?

Well, it’s strange that you use the word industry. So, marijuana medical farming needs in general is what this County has had the ordinance about. The bigger picture is obviously what we’re here to talk about. There’s a wide range there. I’ll just say it feels like there’s a cottage industry level of this type of endeavor, cottage industry or small – its local, and medical, or quite passive, and then there’s a big grow size. Which seem to have much different agendas.

So, how do you perceive the impacts of the industry on Trinity County? 

There’s some things that I think I have to say ‘no comment’ to because I don’t want to create conversations between myself and other supervisors.

What’s your impression of the marijuana farming community in Trinity County?

Well, it’s quite a large group of different styles of people here, and there’s many of them – easily a third (of the population). It could be 30% to 40% of the people that are involved in one way or another, whether it’s a passive involvement or active involvement.

Do you think that you have responsibilities to that population of people? 

To the whole population of the county, of course. Of course there is political process that presents itself, and people who have issues can bring forward their issues. I encourage that.

How do you balance the different interests related to this issue?

That’s done at every political conversation where there are different issues. It’s not all opposed; it’s different viewpoints. One of the things you (addressing the interviewer) describe in your project (The Growing Divide) is that there might be a divide, and there doesn’t have to be – it’s not that at all.

I agree. Do you see Trinity County as being in transition?

Yeah, it’s hard to know where the state of California will land, and so meanwhile it is illegal and it’s like at the end of Prohibition. We’re in the moment when we remove the community dangers, or the perceived dangers, or nuisances. So, with legalization it’s going to be a slightly different picture. It could be quite a different picture.

Do you think it’s a better picture?

See, we don’t know what that picture is yet. We don’t know what the laws will be in California, and that’s always going to be true going forward, never knowing the next step. But my guess is that a big grow operations will still be underworld operations. They won’t be essentially legalizing Philip Morris to come in and start doing whatever they want in central California. I don’t think California will land there. So, I think that the big grows will still have elements of what they do.

“We don’t know what that picture is yet. We don’t know what the laws will be in California, and that’s always going to be true going forward, never knowing the next step.”

Is marijuana farming unethical?

It more matters and how you do it. Because you can also say certain types of banking or investment are illegal, or you can say that certain types of driving are unethical, or you could say that going surfing is unethical, and it all depends on how you do it. So, I would say the same thing with marijuana farming – it kind of depends on how it’s done.

How do you think the marijuana industry is impacting the county?

Well, I’ll start with the negative (impacts) and then go back to the positive ones. There’s obviously the nuisance to neighbors, the nuisance of smell, the traffic of migrant workers. There’s a passive relationship between the employers and the employees, sometimes there are workers rights issues. Water use, of course is a big one, transportation and infrastructure demands, there’s huge impacts with lots of driving. There’s a softer issue of land values and whether it’s a boom and bust type thing and not as consistent.

“On the big production size level it feels like there’s a bunch of folks who just want to do their own thing and exploit capitalism. Small growers are a different story; small growers are just using this as a bonus to country living. The big grow agendas are a problem. It’s over the edge.”

What are the positive impacts?

Well, culturally that is a good question. On the big (production size) level it feels like there’s a bunch of folks who just want to do their own thing and exploit capitalism. Small growers are a different story; small growers are just using this as a bonus to country living. The big grow agendas are a problem. It’s over the edge.

It’s an outdoor living type of work, and there’s a lot of exercise involved, a lot of healthy living that can happen, and it’s a health benefit to those people. There’s a lot of purchases of local commodities, there’s enough people involved in this that they’re buying locally. The small business portion of this that stays local is useful to the economic engine of the whole county. There is a cottage industry level that is quite low impact, both environmentally, and stress wise towards either neighbors or the county. I like calling the cottage industry level – well, just low impact.

What would you characterize as the main challenges marijuana farming in Trinity County poses to the board?

Well, see this industry if you want to call it, is operating without some sort of best practice standards. So, without that, that industry being organized on itself, then government must jump in to handle the extravagant behaviors – the ones that are way off the edge. I mean, so we have to. Unfortunately we have to.