The yellow-and-blue signs urging voters to pass El Dorado County’s five cannabis-related ordinances this November ultimately worked, according to the county’s most recent unofficial election results. El Dorado County, located in east-central California, stretches from Folsom Lake to Lake Tahoe.
As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, Measures N, P, Q, R and S were well on the road to official passage. Measure N, the approval of which was needed for any of the others to pass, had the widest margin with nearly two thirds of county voters approving and just over one third disapproving.
Measure N will create a general tax on cannabis, an enforcement program and special tax rates depending on the nature of the cannabis operation, whether cultivation or sales. The remaining measures are fairly similar but across different specific operations: Measure P allows the outdoor cultivation of medicinal cannabis for commercial purposes, Measure Q allows the outdoor cultivation of recreational cannabis for commercial purposes, Measure R allows indoor commercial operations for medicinal cannabis and Measure S allows indoor commercial operations for recreational cannabis.
Of all five ballot items, Measure S had the closest margin between approval and disapproval. Roughly 60 percent of county voters supported recreational cannabis sales, while about 40 opposed.
The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors voted to add the measures to the 2018 ballot at their meeting on July 17. According to the county website, these measures were formed after the county held more than two dozen public meetings on cannabis, whether through the Board of Supervisors or the county’s cannabis ad hoc committee.
A staff report from the July 17 board meeting said Measure N would give the county’s Planning and Building Department six months to develop programs, meaning the county will have until spring 2019 to get procedures in place. Applications must be available at the end of that six months, unless county supervisors extend implementation time based on unforeseen circumstances.
Though Rod Miller, leader of the El Dorado County Growers Alliance, was an outspoken supporter of the cannabis measures, he does anticipate possible challenges as they move toward implementation. Miller was concerned about an 800-foot setback requirement in the measures, since some prospective growers’ parcels aren’t big enough to meet that demand.
Growers will also need to complete a full environmental impact report and secure other provisions like surveillance cameras and adequate septic systems before operations can begin — all of which have the potential to raise permitting costs.
“If taxes and fees are too high, cannabis products are going to be more expensive for legal growers than they are for the illicit growers,” Miller said.
The Growers Alliance will try to do contracting in order to keep impact report costs low, he added.
While campaigning to get the measures passed, Miller said educating the public was paramount. Since ballot measure language can be confusing to the general public, the alliance took to social media and community engagement to explain what the ballot measures actually meant. Miller said the alliance also worked toward dispelling fears that cannabis can lead to larger problems.
Used irresponsibly, cannabis can create trouble. But substance abuse issues run deeper than the substance itself, he said.
“Folks need to learn that people with substance abuse problems are treating emotional pain and trauma,” Miller said. “It’s not the substance that’s the problem with substance abuse, it’s people self-treating emotional difficulties.”
Miller said instead of blaming cannabis, more attention should be given toward emotional and mental health, particularly among young people. He hopes to encourage high schools to work with students, showing them that substance use doesn’t equate to happiness.
But for now, with the election results fresh and still trickling in, Miller thanked voters for their support.
“Our community knows that we have something to prove … and that we intend to be good citizens,” Miller said. “We’re appreciative to have a chance to prove it.