WHEN RON EDWARDS described Mendo County's cockamamie marijuana policy problems as the “Curse of the Ad Hoc” at the Supes’ Special Cannabis meeting last Thursday, Edwards' frustration was obvious. When the first “ad hoc” pot policy committee was set up with Supervisors John McCowen and Tom Woodhouse in early 2017, it wasn’t long after that that Woodhouse suffered some kind of mental breakdown, stopped “representing” the Third District’s many pot growers, and soon resigned, leaving lame-duck Georgeanne Croskey to fill in as Supe (after months of no Third District Supe at all). Croskey did not replace Woodhouse as “ad hoc” committee member, however.
LONG-TIME POT GROWER and Supervisor Dan Hamburg could have been on the original “ad hoc” but he declared a conflict of interest because his daughter Laura was a grower. So after Woodhouse wigged out, that left only McCowen on the “ad hoc” committee. Then, magically and without explanation, Hamburg’s “conflict” mysteriously went away and he was back in Board discussions of pot policy. (Maybe Laura gave up on applying for a permit like many other local pot growers?) The next thing we knew McCowen suggested renewing the “ad hoc” pot policy committee for a few changes to his mess of a pot policy and Hamburg and McCowen started meeting and discussing “a few minor changes”).
AFTER A SINGLE meeting and the drafting of some proposed relaxations of a few of the rules, Hamburg became “ill” and dropped from sight, disappearing on all County matters including the marijuana “ad hoc.” This left the Board split on the “ad hoc’s” pot relaxation proposals to the point that Supervisor Dan Gjerde openly questioned whether the proposals that Supervisor McCowen presented last Thursday were really agreed to by Hamburg. (McCowen told Gjerde to treat the recommendations as McCowen’s own if he felt like it, adding that Gjerde’s question was kind of insulting. But Gjerde had a minor point: did Hamburg agree to every recommendation?)
IT’S UNLIKELY NOW that the latest victim of the "curse of the ad hoc," Hamburg, will re-appear by the end of his term to address any revisions to McCowen’s pot recommendations, leaving the pot people again in limbo about what the rules will be as the process drags on into 2019 when two new Supervisors, Ted Williams and John Haschak, will take their seats. Neither of them have apparent pot backgrounds, although Haschak has said he wants to see the rules simplified. (Not likely. The pot permit mess is beyond repair and many of the smaller growers McCowen had hoped to encourage to participate have either given up or left the County.) By the time any serious rule relaxations are considered, much less approved — Sheriff Allman openly opposes the proposed rangeland grow provisions, for example — the pot program will have ground to a near halt.
LAST WEEK, McCowen finally got around to asking newly hired Ag Commissioner Harinder Grewal how many of the hundreds of stalled permit applications were being held up by applicants who have not provided proper documentation, as opposed to just sitting unprocessed in a County office. Of course, Mr. Grewal didn’t know but said he was working on getting a number. This, of course, begs the questions of what documentation the applicants have not provided. Are the applicants to blame for not being able to dot every i and cross every t? Or is the County to blame for imposing ridiculous requirements on them? Or is the state to blame for imposing their (Fish & Wildlife, Water Quality Control, State Water Board, tax registration, etc.) rules? And exactly which requirements seem to be the main hold up?
MEANWHILE, outlaw pot growers, some of whom may have once considered applying for a permit but gave up, while others — Mexican cartels on public land, for example, would never have applied — are still out there in large numbers as noted by Sheriff Allman last week.
McCOWEN’S ORIGINAL INTENT in proposing the rules he is now stuck with was reasonable: He wanted to keep pot gardens relatively small, encourage existing reasonably small growers who wanted to go legit, keep the County from being sued on environmental grounds by restricting where pot could be grown, and keep large pot operations out of range and timberland. Unfortunately, the program ballooned into the unworkable mess it has become — including a major drain on the County’s General Fund, the size of which the County has yet to acknowledge.
SO THE CURSE OF THE AD HOC goes much further than just Woodhouse and Hamburg. The curse applies to everyone who has had a hand in what the program has become, leaving a parade of local bureaucrats in its in wake — musical Ag Commissioners, program staff, coordinators, etc.
BACK BEFORE PROP 215 (and even after it) the people who were calling for pot legalization could never have dreamed it would turn out this bad. (Decriminalizaiton in some form seems on hindsight to have been a better goal.) As we have said before, the program should never have been assigned to individual counties — except for zoning. It should have been treated like alcohol, preferably by just adding it to the State’s Alcoholic Beverage Control administration.
HAVING each County develop its own set of pot permit rules is asking for confusion, and the primary underlying reason for the mess we’re in. If pot permitting had been set up like DMV or state employment offices or Air Quality (with state employees, local offices, and one set of rules and administrators), Mendo could still restrict growing with zoning, but would not be saddled with administering its own unmanageable, costly and redundant program.
OH WELL! Too late now.