SHARE
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.
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.

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)

Siskiyou County residents collected thousands of signatures to add referendums to the June 2016 ballot that would repeal the cannabis cultivation ban. Photo by Lauren Steinheimer.
Siskiyou County residents collected thousands of signatures to add referendums to the June 2016 ballot that would repeal the cannabis cultivation ban. Photo by Lauren Steinheimer.

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.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Kudos to Mr. Valenzuela! He spoke the truth on several points: Siskiyou County, by its own preamble, is an agricultural county. Siskiyou County’s former agricultural base, the timber and mining industries, are gone and will not be coming back anytime soon.

    As (former) Chair Valenzuela sagely commented, “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.”

    I spoke at the January 8th BOS meeting, Supervisor Valenzuela randomly picked me to speak last. I offered, cannabis should be teated like, no differently than, how wine grape growers, wineries and wine tasting rooms are regulated. If Siskiyou County adopted, say, an 8% tax on finished recreational product, that is either manicured flower clusters, “buds”, and concentrates from cannabis, such as oils, and edibles (leaving medical cannabis untaxed, of course), by the county sheriff’s own statistics of over 500 grow sites county-wide this would produce several millions of dollars of desperately needed revenue for my county. And this does not even approach total revenues that would generated from legal businesses associated with cannabis around the county were allowed to flourish.

    For example, right now the town of Weed games the system with its name-associated souvenirs, yet remains a semi-ghost town due to its hypocritical refusal to let cannabis associated business into town. This could all economically and socially change for the positive if the town’s politicians would get their collective heads out of the sand. For the entire county as well if its politicians, likewise, would wake-up.

    I feel sad for Siskiyou County’s “old guard”, those folks who refuse to accept they’ve been hoodwinked by corporate and political propaganda’s lies about cannabis over the last 70 odd years. Mankind has over 5000 (that’s thousands) of years of beneficial medical, recreational, and religious use of cannabis. Only those folks born after the 1930s in American were the ones brain-washed into believing cannabis is evil, and I guess they are just mentally unable to change their minds even in the face of proof they’d been lied to. Still, now there’s enough of us who either know the true benefits around cannabis, or are willing to listen to the facts and change our mind, that we are about to overthrow the prejudiced ordinances of those who willfully won’t listen to the truth about this amazing plant. Four of the five Siskiyou Board of Supervisors either themselves are such old guard, or are acting as mouth pieces for them. These folks are a dam holding back real economic progress in Siskiyou County.

    Even when faced with packed-to-overflowing supervisor meetings rallying against the supervisors latest attempt to thwart this county’s economic progress, the supervisors paid no heed to their constituents pleas, thus the referendums. How insulting these supposed leaders are, blinded by their own personal prejudices & fears they have become: fossilized they are.

    Now, thanks to the referendum, we are going to present to all the voters of Siskiyou County the opportunity to lift our county out of the financial morass it’s now in through wise acceptance, incorporating cannabis as a major economic and social asset of our county. One only has to look at those California communities where cannabis has been embraced to see towns full of stores open for business, new businesses thriving, bringing income into not just from locals but from tourism too.

    Pragmatically, looking at the counties and towns around California that continue to prejudicially exclude cannabis and its economics offers an opportunity for Siskiyou County to advantage herself with the income these counties and towns now deny themselves. No, I’m not talking about some some Romanesque, amoral, breakdown of common decency as the fear mongers want us to believe, but rather seeing our towns vibrantly alive once again with new businesses, the old businesses revitalized, maybe even Yreka’s movie theater reopened! I’m talking about folks wanting to move here, build their homes here, reinvigorate this county’s agricultural base. With cannabis innovation and innovators sparking new ideas, leading to yet even more new businesses Siskiyou County could become the silicon valley of cannabis: Weed, California could become the cannabis capitol of…. New businesses, new property owners, new housing construction, property values increasing, and many more benefits, are all awaiting putting this county’s fossils in a museum where they belong, finally.

    In closing, again I say, treat cannabis growing and its economics no differently than wine grape growing and wine production/sales are treated. Hold us to the same environmental standards as vineyards, hold us to the same zoning as wineries are, hold us to the same standards as wine tasting rooms are, and you will see an economic blossoming surpassing anything this county has ever seen. It will not be like the timber boom/bust, it will not be like the gold boom/bust; cannabis is not a boom-bust industry, it has been with us for thousands of years, it will be with us for thousands of years to come. The question is do we want to advantage ourselves, our community, our county here, or do we want to continue to be kept in the past, on the sidelines, by fossils while other parts of California economically and socially progress into the future?

Leave your thoughts