I ask you to join me and vote no on Measure M

The November 2018 General Election Ballot includes a local sales tax measure (Measure M) that would establish local taxes for the cultivation and sales of commercial marijuana.

Although Measure M only establishes a sales tax, the discussions related to Measure M have quickly transitioned from the sales tax itself to the licensing of local commercial marijuana operations, including cultivation, processing and dispensaries (storefronts).

Some of our local leaders have clearly stated that a “Yes” vote on Measure M will be considered to be an endorsement of commercial marijuana operations in Lassen County.

I believe this is misleading, and the voters should be asked a direct question and given an opportunity to give a direct response.

Marijuana is a divisive issue in our community, and people on both sides of the argument have very strong opinions.

Before commercial operations are contemplated, the voters on both sides of the issue should have a voice in shaping our future as it relates to marijuana. Most voters will not be aware of the discussions surrounding Measure M and may vote in favor of Measure M as they would any other “sin” tax, like those regularly approved by voters for cigarettes and alcohol.

These votes for this “sin” tax should not be considered an endorsement for local commercial marijuana operations. Additionally, we should not forget Lassen County’s voting history.

In 1996, 60 percent of Lassen County voters opposed Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, and in 2016, 54.4 percent of Lassen County voters opposed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational use of marijuana by adults.

Although small-scale medical marijuana operations have been legal since 1996, illegal marijuana operations have continued to present a public safety threat in Lassen County. Large illegal marijuana grows have been operated by the Mexican drug cartels on public lands in Lassen County for decades, and two Lassen County deputies have been shot on these grows.

In recent years, the number of illegal grows found on public lands has dropped. At the same time, the number of illegal grows operating on private property has increased substantially. I believe the catalyst for this rapid growth was Lassen County’s adoption of an ordinance that permitted parties to grow up to 72 plants on larger parcels.

This liberal policy, combined with limited enforcement resources, inexpensive land, and other factors, drew people to Lassen County to grow marijuana. The county has since combated this influx of illegal growers by reducing the legal plant counts, as well as through law enforcement and code enforcement.

The code enforcement process is very staff intensive and results in limited abatements, while the penalty for criminal cultivation has been reduced to a misdemeanor. Although these enforcement actions are challenging, they have made an impact on the most visible grows. They have hurt illegal growers due to the seizure and destruction of illegal marijuana, and restored the peace of mind of the people living near these illegal operations.

Despite these efforts, there are still hundreds of illegal marijuana gardens operating in Lassen County.

Many of these growers are from out of the area, and they do not care about or appreciate our way of life. They steal water, trespass, kill wildlife and adversely affect our community.

We have experienced shootings, assaults, thefts, robberies and a kidnapping, as well as other crimes related to illegal marijuana operations. We have experienced fires due to improper use of electricity and explosions related to “Butane Honey Oil” labs.

The activities related to illegal marijuana operations result in numerous complaints received by our 911 center each year. These complaints are generated because many of these people have no intent to comply with laws or regulations.

Unfortunately, I believe inviting commercial operations into our county will only intensify our problems. Other California counties that have embraced commercial marijuana operations have seen increases in illegal marijuana operations as well as other associated crime.

With those things said, I do appreciate those people who grow responsibly and within the law. We have few complaints about the small, personal and legal growing operations. These legal growers are cooperative in helping us ensure compliance.

My final concern is related to our culture and environment in Lassen County. State law allows us some level of local control in the area of marijuana. Currently, only 144 of the 482 California cities permit marijuana business within their borders, and only 18 of the 58 counties permit marijuana business.

This is a local decision that should involve much discussion, disclosure and detailed planning. I do not believe Lassen County is ready to take this step and try to chase the “Green Rush.”

I do not want to follow Colorado, where the rate of marijuana use among children is 85 percent higher than the rest of the nation, and they have seen a 151 percent increase in marijuana related traffic fatalities. On Nov. 6 we have the opportunity to protect our culture and rural way of life. Please join me in voting no on Measure M.