17 days, over 4,000 signatures, hundreds of petition forms, and one determined cannabis community: That’s what it took to file two referendums repealing a set of Siskiyou County ordinances that would ban outdoor cultivation.
This past holiday season, a volunteer-driven group of Siskiyou County cannabis growers, patients and advocates banded together to bring the power of cultivation policy back to the people it affects, educating the public and registering nearly 1,000 residents to vote in the process.
Two hefty boxes of petitions were delivered to County Clerk Colleen Setzer on Thursday, Jan. 7. While Setzer has a working deadline of Feb. 19 to finish validating signatures, the unofficial count of over 2,000 per referendum exceeds the required 1,362 signatures needed to get onto the June 2016 ballot. If voters pass the referendum, the ban will be lifted and Siskiyou County’s previous cannabis ordinance will go back into place, which included restrictions for number of plants, setbacks from property lines and residency requirements.
“We’re still waiting for the final verification to be released,” Hern said, “but if we’re successful, this is the first completely volunteer-driven cannabis referendum to get on a California ballot.” (Story continues below photo)
Hern, who has worked on various campaigns, said it’s common for people to be paid to collect signatures. “Every petition or referendum needs to state that the petitioner might be paid, and the public has the right to ask if they’re being paid.”
Hern volunteered her time to this cause out of personal motivation to maintain patients’ access to medical cannabis. “My mother had stage four cancer,” she said. “And using cannabis improved her quality of life. She didn’t need to use morphine. Before she passed, she said she wanted me to continue advocating for this.”
Volunteers Ray Strack and Siskiyou Alternative Medicine President Wayne Walent collected approximately half of the signatures in front of Walmart, where they stood for long hours in wintery weather, every day from Dec. 27 to Jan. 7.
Despite spending their holiday posted outside of a Walmart, both Strack and Walent reported positive experiences. “The feedback from citizens was really positive, and management at Walmart was wonderful,” they said.
“We educated a lot of people,” Walent said. “About 75-85% of the people we got to sign this had no idea it was even going on.”
When asked what he thinks of the volunteer-driven referendums, Board of Supervisors Chairman Ed Valenzuela said, “These people have gone out and registered hundreds of people to vote, so kudos to them! Any time you can get more people involved in local politics is a good thing.”
Valenzuela was the only county supervisor to vote against the ordinances. He said the reasons behind his vote were that the previous ordinance was difficult enough to enforce, and that he believes most growers were trying to adhere to the set guidelines.
“People who were only growing three plants were affected by this,” he said. “We are an ‘ag county’ and I think people are being shut out of an opportunity to grow a cash crop that might be more profitable than alfalfa.”
Siskiyou County is a rural, economically disadvantaged area with an unemployment rate of 9.4% according to the November 2015 report from California Employment Development Department.
Both Walent and Strack were present at the Siskiyou Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 8, when the ordinances were approved despite hours of pleas from members of the community who opposed them. Walent, who has called Siskiyou County home since the late 70’s, said he’s never seen a turnout like the crowd that showed up to oppose the cultivation ban.
Immediately after the ordinances were approved, the grassroots campaign to repeal them began. Through social media and word of mouth, the group began meeting weekly to organize a petition. They had a tight timeline of 30 days to act before the ban went into place. By the time the referendums were written and printed, they had only 17.
“The response I heard from the volunteers working in the rain, sleet and snow is that the community was really pleased the petitioners were able to educate them,” said Elizabeth Woolery of Mount Shasta Patients Collective.
Continued efforts to educate the community and encourage people to vote in June and November are already in the works. “We need to encourage dialogue, not divisiveness,” Strack said.
The volunteers involved with these referendums agreed that this is indicative of a great transition in cannabis legislation, in which professionals who have been working in the shadows for years are finally starting to “come out” in an attempt to assist government officials and alleviate fear in the community.
Featured image caption: The Siskiyou County board of supervisors meeting was met with a full house when considering the outdoor cannabis cultivation on Dec. 8, 2015. Photo by Lauren Steinheimer.