Supervisor Fenley

John Fenley

Trinity County Board of Supervisors

Supervisor, District 5


How do you perceive the marijuana growing industry?

I’ll be very specific, and let’s start out with it in this County. It is out of control. It has taken advantage of the County’s lack of resources, which comes right down to revenue. The resources that would take into effect would be making people abide by our current County ordinance and the Health and Safety Code that was codified for Prop 215 and SB 420. (The) State has also not given us much direction, but to be honest with you there is a lot. There is direction in the California health code, it’s just that the people don’t want to abide by it. The ones that are growing here. I get it. I do actually understand that you are going to get away with whatever you can.

The constituents that I have, that I know […] do grow cannabis, that are growers, might grow more plants than they are supposed to, but they are aware of their neighbors, they are very much part of the community. They have been long time residents; they care so deeply about the community, and about each other. I’m not talking about each other as a grower; I’m talking about each other as a human being. Those are the most incredible, wonderful people that are part of this community. It’s the boys and girls that don’t want to play by the rules, that are here to make a buck, that have given these people (a bad reputation). It is the most horrible thing around. That’s the devastating part of this.

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Supervisor Fenley. Photo by Talia Herman.

“The constituents that I have, that I know […] do grow cannabis, that are growers, might grow more plants than they are supposed to, but they are aware of their neighbors, they are very much part of the community. Those are the most incredible, wonderful people that are part of this community. It’s the boys and girls that don’t want to play by the rules, that are here to make a buck, that have given these people (a bad reputation). That’s the devastating part of this.”

How do you see your responsibility to the marijuana growing community?

There is a place for the cannabis growing community. It actually was defined loosely and a very small percentage of people, growers, really embrace it and work with it and use it. The large percentage seems to just want to kick everybody in the face, they’re transient, they’re abusive, they’re in it for the buck, they’re even as far as stepping out of medical cannabis, looking at recreational cannabis. I wouldn’t even want these people growing cannabis for anyone close to me, or anyone I knew, for recreational use, because they seem to be so abusive and they don’t care what is in their product. They are in it for the buck.

Do you think the industry is harmful to the community?

Right now, absolutely. One hundred percent, yes.

How is it harmful?

They (marijuana growers) do not participate in the government or the law. They are working outside of all health and safety concerns. They are not operating within (a) society that is kind of held together by a local government. We agree that we will function within certain loose rules. The last thing we really need is more regulation and more rules because we really have all the basic stuff down and that’s all we need. The ethics of it depend on the grower: the person doing it, and their desire to do it, and their reason for growing it. You can say the same thing about a cotton grower, almond grower, or (whatever the crop is).The people I find are unethical are the ones who stand up and–this is specifically with medical cannabis–stand up and say ‘I’m making an incredible product. I want to grow it. I want to make it into pills. But I want to sell it. But not pay taxes.’ To me, they are just “big grower.” Let’s start stepping up to the plate as a capitalist, and if you don’t want to pay taxes, move your business out of the country like Google, and whatever the other companies are that do it, for your tax breaks.

“The ethics of it depend on the grower: the person doing it, and their desire to do it, and their reason for growing it. You can say the same thing about a cotton grower, almond grower, or (whatever the crop is).”

Do you think that there are positive impacts that the marijuana farming industry is having?

Yes. Believe it or not, the people in Hayfork — the people that want to be here, whether they participate as a grower or not, have brought children, have brought incredible new focus, new life. And I know it upsets some of the elders that have been here for a while, but this County would not grow if it were not for (these new arrivals). It is so exciting to see.

Do you perceive the community as divided around this issue? 

I would say that you have maybe about fifteen percent who think it’s welcome and fine.   They don’t really care. Then there’s a percentage that absolutely do not want it, do not like it, find it harmful. And then there’s a percentage–the majority– that are just going ‘get over it, let’s move on, get this legalized, regulated’ and hope maybe they (growers with negative impacts to the community) will go away when there’s not the abuse of money in it.

And the damage I see […] is to the County. The County historically has gone through a boom and a bust starting with the gold mine (era), even though there wasn’t a lot of gold up here. We got into timber. Timber went away. All of those booms brought money to the County government and to the citizens each directly. Whether it be through better schools or working in services or working in timber. Now if you want to call marijuana a boom, it’s kind of a sub-boom because it’s very narrow in where it brings funding. It’s nothing we can even rely on. Looking at it as a boom as far as a lot of people and a lot of things happening in Trinity County, the bust is going to be financially not as big as a bust. But it will be very dramatic in Trinity County’s future as far as the land damage, the lack of retail sales, and that’s pretty much it. If it goes away as big as it probably will go away, this County will be busted or damaged for a good ten-thirty years.

Do you think the marijuana industry is a defining issue in Trinity County?

It should be the defining issue.  Have they dealt with it? Have we dealt with it as a Board? No. That is a disservice to every constituent that is in this County, whether they are growing legally, illegally, whether they are not growing. There is no definition and nothing defined and it’s (ineffective). The State hasn’t given us any direction–well, some direction–they just haven’t stepped up to the plate, so we haven’t stepped up to the plate.

Do you think that marijuana growers are challenged to engage in developing regulation because they are not in a position where they can publicly talk about it?

They’re not here to participate. Really. There is a very small percentage that vote or that will come up to me and say ‘what’s going on, you know with the cannabis, are you going to come and raid me?’ It’s like, well, have you gotten a complaint? Are you being nasty to your neighbor? Are you being a blight on the local community? Those people have been here a long time, they care about living here, and they want to live here and continue what they’re doing. They come to so many community events, they are involved in planning of the community; they participate beyond belief. The participants in the community are the ones who come up to me and say ‘are you going to bust me?’

What do you think of recent efforts on the part of community members to engage with you directly and participate in the development of their own regulatory system?

I want to hear and am more than happy to talk […] about potential regulatory systems. There are so many different opinions and directions that might work for Trinity County that would not necessarily be implemented statewide. But it’s not easy to make a regulatory scheme, even specific to Trinity County. It’s not ‘just go do it.’ And that’s what most people think it is. There needs to be fairness, there needs to be equality, there needs to be openness. There needs to be a lot of public discussion and it needs to be legal. (You) have your rear backed up with the legal ramifications. With the attitude of ‘well, let’s just go out and shut them down,’ or ‘let’s just tell them they can grow anywhere they want.’ You’re impacting a tremendous amount of people by doing that.

Do you think the effort of people to engage directly and weigh in on that system as participants is feasible?

Yes it is. The way it kind of works is they grab me, they bang on me, they let me know what they want, and what they don’t want, and that’s why I talk to Assembly member Woods, Senator McGuire. I deal with the Rural County Representatives of California, and look specifically at the five legislative bills that are coming down. What will work in an urban area will not work in Trinity County, and one of the problems with last year’s legislation was it was extremely urban-oriented and completely ignored where the product is produced. And another problem I have is, looking forward five or ten years for protecting this County, […] will the legislation allow for the grower that’s here to continue? Or will it revert back to a very small personal grower, like a person who makes wine or beer in their bathtub, (for) sharing it instead of selling it, or trading? I don’t know if a collective or a co-op situation will work up here, like they do with a tobacco or soy. And then when you get into something like that, tobacco or soybeans, the grower usually gets screwed.