Trinity County Board of Supervisors
Supervisor, District 1
What impact do you think marijuana farming is having on our communities?
Well, it’s definitely changed the demographic of the county, and brought in a younger demographic. It’s brought in the marijuana culture, which is very foreign to a lot of the old-timers here. I think there is a lot of discomfort with the old guard, both Trinity County and people that have moved here to retire. We see that especially in my district. I could push through an ordinance that didn’t allow marijuana in my district and I’d win in a landslide, because there’s not any growing happening there. My district has one gardening center, and we don’t see any economic gain in this district from it. We have a lot of retired people that don’t want a lot of the industries’ actions around them. They came here to relax and sit by the river and finish their life, living in the beautiful Alps. They don’t like to see the crime. The industry has brought a lot of crime –if you go read the paper from twenty years ago and read the sheriff’s report it used to be a fun sort of thing to do – barking dogs and somebody really upset about it, and now its serious crime after serious crime. So the industry, it’s not the product itself necessarily, but it’s (some of) the people that are drawn to that industry seem to be counterculture, people on the edge–get rich quick, I don’t have to work hard, shortcut type people. So, like you know this kid let’s say he’s a pot grower, that’s what he makes his living on, but he probably only makes like $10,000 a year because he’s too lazy to be a good pot grower– it’s like any other job, you have to work hard at it.
I’m glad that you mentioned that because laziness does seem to be a common perception about the industry with people who aren’t part of that community, but growing does take work.
Right. Well that’s a half a year job where you work hard. It’s like logging used to be. I’m not minimizing how hard some people have to work, but it’s also not an incredible, super job that you’re fighting fires for six months straight or in combat. I think part of the laziness is the general community sees the lazy ones because they are the ones hanging around town. But to me it is irrelevant because there’s a lot of people that work just as hard or harder and make $15,000 a year and then there’s people that don’t do jack crap and make a $1,000,000 a year. Working hard is not how you make money and it really doesn’t matter.
It’s a personal decision based on the whole suite of things.
I will say part of that comes down to the fact that they are not part of society. There is anger about that. If you work at the sawmill make $45,000 a year, and they take $10,000 in taxes, and $7,000 in Social Security, and you’re living off the rest, well you work hard you have to get up every day and go to work and pass your drug test and not be drunk…
It’s regimented, you have less personal freedom involved in your work choices.
Yes, and so then I think that’s what people (who are upset about growing) say ‘oh you guys don’t do anything.’
So there’s an element of sour grapes (resentment) about it?
Well sure, it’s unfair. Americans like to be fair like no other nation in the planet. As a nation we are taught that the lowest surf and the highest rank has equal rights in this country. I think most people really believe that that’s possible—the idea that nobody is better than me, I don’t have to bow for the Queen. And so when somebody else is scamming the system that shows an unfairness in the system. And I think that makes people very angry.
Do you think locally the perception of the ethics of marijuana growing are changing?
Not in my district.
Do you think in a longer term trajectory that change will happen?
Yes. You know we can still learn the lessons from the appeal of alcohol prohibition. At first (following prohibition) there still was a large stigma lasting into the 50’s even. You didn’t just offer somebody a drink. So, I mean that takes a slow, slow period and there’ll be a stigma for thirty – forty years, I’m sure.
Is your personal opinion about the ethics of marijuana farming changing at all?
Actually I would say it’s gone more negative. Because I see people that are here like the gold miners to rape and pillage, and they don’t care about the damage socially. You know, you can say ‘oh, it’s just a plant I’m doing nothing wrong’ but you’ve got to open your eyes – I can’t sit in the alcohol industry (Keith Groves operates a vineyard) and say alcohol doesn’t cause any problems. They’re still in this delusional stage, a lot like the cigarette corporate guys that deny the impacts, and say ‘nope no cancer from my stuff.’ You know they’re still not ready to face up and be part of society. If they were making $10,000 a year instead of $100,000, their thoughts would be very different.
Do you think that they would be more likely to acknowledge some of the responsibilities of the negative impacts if they weren’t also being stigmatized?
That is hard to say. I guess that’s just human nature in general. The more somebody attacks you, the more defensive you get.
What challenges does marijuana farming pose to local government? Start anywhere you like.
Well, crime rates are number one. Citizen complaints about land use is a big issue. A guy called me up and ended up crying about how terrible his life has become because of the growers in the area. We get those calls all the time. Calls where people angry at us (The Board of Supervisors) for not solving the problems. From a governmental side on one level it doesn’t matter what industry it is– if somebody was growing ginseng and caused the same problems we would have the same issues.
“Citizen complaints about land use is a big issue. A guy called me up and ended up crying about how terrible his life has become because of the growers in the area. We get those calls all the time. Calls where people are angry at us (The Board of Supervisors) for not solving the problems.”
In terms of the board and their ability to manage this issue what’s the biggest thing hindering you from being able to do so?
Money. For everything. They (growers) don’t pay their share. I pay a wine tax, federal and state. My customers pay 7.5% to the state in sales tax. I pay all sorts of fees– water fees, water right fees, wastewater fees, toxic wastewater fees. I mean the fees just pile on so there’s money in the industry to regulate.
Within the board is there any sense of wanting to craft an ordinance that works for growers? Or any sense of addressing them as a constituent in their own right?
Yes. The Planning Commission is a neutral body that is supposed to sit in judicial fact, and so they are supposed to achieve balance- they’re supposed to seek out what issues there are, come up with ways to mitigate them, and to set the least amount of burden on the person doing it. But, the problem is the smell. And when it comes to odor control there’s not a lot of mitigation out there.
Do you consider marijuana farmers to be politically marginalized?
No. I think their voices are heard pretty loudly.
In meetings and so forth I’ve dealt with the marijuana growers – I fully understand their positions and their political stance. I don’t think, for my personal standpoint, and these are my personal standpoints, that they are marginalized. I would say to be marginalized means that your views or reasoning aren’t listened to, and to me that’s not the case at all (with this issue).
Do growers speak with you directly as much? I have the impression that most people that are reaching out to the board directly tend to be people who are against marijuana farming. Does that seem accurate to you?
Yes. I definitely get more anti emails that I get pro emails. But I try to listen, and this is something that you get to, in a planning situation. So, I try to really balance what’s fair in this. The more people you have- there is political pressure, and at that big meeting there just as many growers as non-growers. Now, there was a lot of misinformation on the growers’ side. I would say if anything they politically marginalize themselves when they come up and don’t understand the system. When you come out for the 4th year in a row saying ‘pots legal man, you can’t touch me, I have my 215 card,’ and you have to go through and explain planning law and land-use it gets very frustrating. So a lack of knowledge is a problem. It was very refreshing to have that lawyer that was their hired by whomever, or (he was) just trying to get involved say ‘well yes, your County Council is absolutely right that’s the law of California.’ Whereas before we got this – ‘I brought my lawyer and he’s going to sue you until you’re in jail.’
Do you think it’s a problem with people not understanding how things work?
Yes, and this happens on both sides. There’s times when I get extremely frustrated with both sides not getting what’s going on. You know somebody up there was saying, “I don’t care just pull the plants.” Ah, not helpful. That’s not how it works.
So how do you perceive the marijuana farming industry in general?
I’ve always described most growers as kids who set up a lemonade stand, but it just makes a lot more money. Very naive. Very little business experience. Real world or California business experience anyway. Kind of self-righteous, and part of what I kind of admire is that entrepreneurial independence that they have.
What are your responsibilities to the marijuana farming community?
[Pause] Well, I guess my only true responsibility to them is to, as a constituent, to protect their rights under the law.
What are your responsibilities to those who aren’t part of the farming community?
Well, I don’t really see that I have a different responsibility to either one. They are about the same. As a conservative guy I believe people should be able to do what they want as long as they don’t harm others.
In practice do you find it hard to balance those competing groups?
No, I don’t. And I think part of that (comes from my experience with the) judicial side of planning– you are a planner for so long is that you actually act as an impartial judge. So, I get frustrated right now. Of course everybody is bashing the pot growers for taking all the water. Well, let’s say a plant will take 3 gallons of water a day. Well, let’s add all of this up and see how much water that really is. And when you add it up all the water used in Trinity County (for growing) is maybe 5% of what we just dumped down for the boat dance.
So, do you think the industry overall is harmful to the community?
Yes. As it is designed today, yes. I think culturally, and I think we’ll find financially that its hurt the area more than it’s gained.
So, what’s culturally damaging?
Well, it makes me very sad that you have (an impact on) children. Well, there is one year we threw more kids out of Weaverville Elementary for pot then we did Trinity High. That’s just neglectful to me. You can live your lifestyle, but when you’re destroying kids. I would immediately dispute anybody that says kids being around pot isn’t destructive. Besides the physical damage, when you’re in an illegal activity, and this is not necessarily their fault the reality – you are training your child that authority is bad, following rules are bad, and of course when we get into high school and you have kids in high school (less interested in college saying ‘why do I have to listen to you? I can go make five times as much as you the second I get out of high school.’ And so we’re prioritizing money over education, which from one standpoint, I believe people should strive to have as much education as possible. I don’t care if you dig ditches but having an education, learning about art or whatever is a good thing.
If you use that education to make a bunch of money, that’s a good thing too. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to not teach people in our society… is that okay? We’re going to make money growing pot, but you still need to be educated, you still need to understand life and things. (These impacts are) very negative to the culture. And we were traditionally a hardworking blue collar area before. And not that pot (growing) isn’t hard working, but for the most part it’s not respectful. People were very respectful here. You can do what you want, just be respectful to your neighbor.