Two volunteer-driven referendums seeking to repeal the two cannabis-related ordinances approved by Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors in December were filed on Thursday, Jan. 7.
Volunteer coordinator Rhonda Hern said this will be the first volunteer-driven cannabis referendum to get on a California ballot.
Operating on a short timeline, a group of volunteers banded together in an effort to prevent the set of ordinances that would completely ban outdoor cannabis cultivation in Siskiyou County from going into effect. The group had 30 days from the date of approval on Dec. 8 to collect enough petition signatures and file the referendums.
By the time the petitions were written, printed and distributed, the group only had 17 days left.
While final validation remains in the hands of the county clerk, the group obtained more signatures than what was required. In the process, they registered nearly 1,000 Siskiyou County residents to vote.
1,362 signatures were required to get the referendums onto the June 2016 election ballot, a number based upon 10% of the last gubernatorial election.
County Clerk Colleen Setzer is validating the signatures to ensure they match voter registrations. Setzer said her working deadline is Feb. 19, but the unofficial count is over 2,000 signatures for each ordinance according to Elizabeth Woolery of Mount Shasta Patients Collective. “The signature count between the two referendums was about 4,400,” Woolery said.
If all signatures are validated, the referendums will be posted. Then, the county will revert to the old cannabis cultivation ordinance until the June election, when the public will have the opportunity to vote on them.
District 2 Supervisor Ed Valenzuela said, “Kudos to them for getting hundreds of people registered to vote. Any way to get more people involved in local politics is a good thing.”
Valenzuela was the one supervisor to vote against the cultivation ordinances.
When asked why, he said, “The county was having a hard time enforcing the existing ordinance, so how could we enforce this one?”
Valenzuela said he thinks the majority of cannabis growers in Siskiyou County are trying to adhere to the guidelines. “People who were only growing three plants were really affected by this.”
In response, Sheriff Jon Lopey said, “it was a daunting task,” but pointed to a couple of successful busts this past year. “We encountered a number of possible criminal violations. The number of plants wasn’t the only issue. Many sites didn’t have any water source or county approved sewer, so there are environmental concerns.”
Sheriff Lopey added that 21 arrests were made and 2,000 pounds of processed cannabis seized at one site on York Road this year.
“I’ve emphasized repeatedly that we are not out to discriminate against small-scale growers. I had no problem with the last ordinance, but it was abused by a lot of people. Unfortunately, that reflects unfavorably on people who are trying to do it right,” Lopey said.
Volunteers Ray Strack of Weed and Siskiyou Alternative Medicine President Wayne Walent collected approximately half of the signatures in front of Walmart in Yreka.
“We got the paperwork on Dec. 19,” Strack said. “Then there were some crazy storms, then it was Christmas.”
Although Strack and Walent posted themselves outside of Walmart for about 6 hours per day from Dec. 27 to Jan. 7 in wintery weather, they both reported an overall positive experience.
“The feedback from citizens was really positive, and management at Walmart was wonderful,” they said.
“About 75-85% of the people we got to sign this had no idea it was even going on,” said Walent. “I’d estimate about a quarter to a third of the signatures were from people who said they don’t even grow or use cannabis.”
Woolery and Hern both praised the volunteers for putting in long hours over the holidays to accomplish this goal in only 17 days.
“We’re very, very proud,” they both said.
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,” she said.
Hern continued to explain that she volunteered her time to this cause out of personal motivation to maintain patient’s 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.”
Looking ahead, Strack said, “We need to encourage dialogue, not divisiveness. Now that people are aware there are changes affecting their livlihood, we hope they’ll be more likely to come out and learn about what’s going on. We plan to do community outreach to encourage people to come out and vote.”
The volunteers involved with the referendums agreed that this is only the beginning of a 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.
“The referendums were filed because we have a community that wants to work with the board and be part of the solution,” Woolery said. “It’s not because we wanted to play hardball. We’re trying to find a neutral compromise that works for law enforcement, the growers, the patients, and the annoyed neighbors. It’s a lot to balance, but it can be done.”