Monday, March 12, 2018

We Need a Calaveras County Sheriff Who Supports Our Marijuana Ban

On March 8th, I had an opportunity to talk with Gary Stevens who is a candidate running for Calaveras Sheriff. The Sheriff's election will take place during the statewide primary in June. Of course, if a candidate does not get a majority, then the office will go to a run-off in November.

This was the first time that I'd ever met Mr. Stevens. I can tell you that it was good to talk with him about many things that concern our county. I found that he has lived in Calaveras County for 30 years or more, and that he has over 27 years of law enforcement experience. I like the fact that he has served as a Calaveras County Sheriff's Deputy and an Amador County Sheriff's Deputy from many years. I like that he has worked for the Amador County District Attorney's Office as a Criminal Investigator. I like it because deputies up in these parts face a situation of limited resources, subsequently a deputy who has worked here has faced problems that are unique to our huge county. It is very different than being an officer in the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles.

A few of my friends and neighbors here in Glencoe have voiced their concerned about whether or not a Sheriff Stevens would support the present policy on issuing Concealed Carry permits here? I asked Mr. Stevens about that, and I'm please to say that he is for keeping the present Concealed Carry policy in place.

Since he has had a very extensive career in law enforcement, we talked about the our county in so far as what sorts of crime we have going on here, the causation, policies, and some of what can be done to address crime and the lack of law enforcement manpower in our county.

As I would hope that all of the candidates running for the position believe, I agree with Mr. Stevens' belief that our Sheriff's department is doing a great job with the limited resources that it has. Though that's the case, he is very concerned about the lack of leadership and manpower. He has ideas to pull in more officers into our county.

Since he has worked in Calaveras County in the past, he knows first hand what our Sheriff's Office needs to do to remedy the department in the way of keeping officers and bringing new hires aboard. While he said that we needed more deputies, we talked about school safety, mental health problems, unemployment, the lack of industry in our county, traffic problems, and of course illegal drug use here.

While there are those who support commercial marijuana and feel that our Sheriff's Office is letting other criminal activity slide-by because of some sort of obsession with "cannabis", I don't see that. I believe our Sheriff's deputies are responsive and vigilant of all criminal activity in our county -- not just marijuana related. That being said, crime statistics show that the biggest problem that our county faces is the the increase in crimes connected to marijuana growing. So knowing that fact, how anyone can say that our Sheriff's Office needs to focus on other areas other than cannabis is beyond me -- especially where that's the problem.

This all led my talking to the Sheriff-candidate about the recent county ban on the commercial growing of marijuana. We spoke about concerns regarding the criminal element that it brings with it, and the underground economy which does not add a single dollar in tax revenue to our county coffers. Our county coffers have become strained because of the burdensome costs involving marijuana grows.  

We also talked about the environmental impact that commercial and illegal cannabis growing has had on our county. Before ever meeting Sheriff-candidate Gary Stevens, I've been told about the horrible environment conditions of some of the cannabis grow sites. Some people in the county tell me that the majority of the grow sites are considered toxic waste dumps and hazardous waste sites.  

I've learned that because of the heavy chemical use to grow plants with higher THC levels, growers have successfully contaminated the soil and have polluted the water tables and ground water. This in turn has sent contaminants to the rivers which in turn supplies needed drinking water for people downriver in the San Francisco Bay Area and other communities. Of course, beyond successfully polluting the water which will endanger people downriver from us, the growers have clear cut the forest and put in roads without permits or surveys to see if such things would adversely impact erosion control and flooding which it has.

While we spoke, Mr. Stevens told me about the in depth op-ed that he wrote regarding these problems. The article below is his op-ed from last September, 2017. I've found it honest, straight forward, and informative. I find that he articulates the hazards that commercial pot growers bring to Calaveras County.

After talking with him, and reading his article below, I'm even more convinced that voting for a County Sheriff who is for the ban on commercial marijuana in Calaveras County is the way to go.

The article below was published published in The Pine Tree on September 25th, 2017:

Hard Facts & Truths about Commercial Marijuana

By Gary Stevens

Both Sides of the Argument:

I have been listening to the arguments made by the people supporting commercial marijuana industry and to those opposed in Calaveras County. Those in favor of commercial marijuana cultivation argue that the ban will fail because there is no money to fund a ban, and the industry should be regulated. Only the good, responsible growers will be here and the county’s financial woes would be alleviated because somewhere between 5-11 million dollars that will come in from permit fees and taxes. That money will be used to ‘regulate’ the growing industry and protect us from unregulated black market growers. And there is the argument that marijuana has always been here.

I also hear the arguments from the people opposed to the commercial marijuana cultivation industry. Those arguments and complaints range from the wells being depleted, increased traffic in normally quiet residential areas, generator noise, bright lights all night, threats /intimidation from ‘new neighbors’ with guns patrolling their property, living in unpermitted campsites on property, defecating in buckets, indiscriminate cutting of trees, unauthorized grading which has devastated streams, creeks, and watersheds. I know that some growers have dumped their fertilizer into their wells to mix it prior being applied to their marijuana plants. Others have altered streams, diverted water and left fertilizers/chemicals lying on the ground. One grower started a large vegetation fire by using his generator with faulty wiring to operate his well for that purpose last year.

There are many more pro and con issues that can be argued. Many people have taken sides, others don’t know much about these issues and ask, “What’s the harm?”

It’s a Public Health and Safety Issue

But what has not been brought up is the environmental damage that occurs with commercial marijuana cultivation, both illegal and legal/ regulated grow sites. The real issue that has not been in the public eye is the extensive environmental damage commercial marijuana causes. The irreparable damage to our watershed, streams and creeks, lakes, ponds, aquifers, and downstream users of our water are being threatened.

I have done some research, and met with people who are all too familiar with this. All of this information is available through open source reporting. I have provided some links to the information referenced here.

First, I looked back to when Cliff Edson, former Calaveras County District 1 Supervisor was pursuing his idea of identifying Calaveras County as a ‘watershed’ county. The idea was that we should do more to harness the snow pack by thinning the forests to gather more of the runoff, and reduce fire fuels. There was to be an economic boost that would have benefited not only the county’s finances, but provided jobs, stability and a healthier forest. See the following link to the Calaveras Enterprise article:

On 02/10/2016, Edson addressed the San Joaquin Water Basin committee. During his Power Point presentation, Edson identified Calaveras County is about 75% privately owned land. Calaveras County has 23 major streams and rivers, that feed several lakes and reservoirs. The presentation showed the flooding of our streams in the Valley Springs area, which flows into San Joaquin County. As Edson put it, “What do you think we are bringing down to you? “Including sewage.” Much of this presentation was post Butte Fire. Edson pointed out that ‘Furadan’ and ‘Chlordane’ was found in marijuana grow sites, where water had been diverted and food intentionally laced to poison animals. As Edson states in his presentation, Pardee, Tulloch, New Melones, New Hogan, Camanche, Spicer, and both Salt Springs reservoirs, are your water source.

Here is the link to that video presentation;

The Dark side of growing Commercial Marijuana

On May 30 of 2017, the Calaveras County Sheriff, Rick DiBasilio gave a power point presentation to the BOS. He outlined the problems his office has had with compliance checks and eradication of marijuana grow sites. His presentation started with the unmanageable number of registered (permitted) grow sites, the registrant never being on the site or available, growers from all over the world coming to Calaveras County, zoning issues, etc. Some of the permitted growers were living in trailers in violation, and in Rancho Calaveras on lots too small, (by ordinance), growing commercially. The Sheriff also outlined the exposure to pesticides, herbicides and other unknown chemicals. Along with using dangerous chemicals, the Sheriff stated this brings up hazards which highlights future worker’s compensation issues for county employees. There would be millions of dollars that would be required to pay these claims. But let’s not forget, it is not just a worker’s compensation claim. This is a county employee, whether a deputy, code compliance employee or other county employee who most likely has a family to support and now his future health and the health of his or her family may be in danger.

Here is the link for that presentation; May 30, 2017, -> ‘Video’, (starts around the 41:00-minute mark).

So where are we now. We have approximately 200 registered or ‘permitted’ commercial marijuana cultivation sites in Calaveras County. They are commonly referred to as ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ grow sites. I will call them permitted and unpermitted for clarity. According to sources in Calaveras County government, there are currently more than 2,000 commercial marijuana cultivation sites in Calaveras County.

The Real Reason the Marijuana Growers are here; “It’s about the Money”

They are actually being honest what it’s all about, “money’. They are here for the money, nothing else. They came from all over the state and all over the country. Some came from other countries. They came and they are destroying our land and watersheds. When they leave, the clean-up required funding becomes our problem. But the damage will already be done.

Marijuana advocates even funded a study about the fiscal impacts that commercial marijuana industry would bring to Calaveras County. But it did not address the environmental concerns we as citizens have. We live here, they just moved here for the purpose of growing marijuana. Their stake is financial, this is our home.

It’s not about Good Grows vs. Bad Grows or Registered Grows vs. Illegal Grows, it’s about our County, the people and our Environment

During the first week of ‘Operation Terminus’, up to 30 grow sites were eradicated. According to California Fish and Wildlife biologist Caroline Peterson during her appearance before the Calaveras Fish and Game Commission on Aug 23, 2017, she stated there were 157 environmental violations. In her words at that meeting, Calaveras County has the highest number of environmental violations in her area of responsibility, which is 17 counties. Another separate eradication in the West Point area yielded 23 environmental citations alone.

According to a letter from the California Fish and Wildlife to the Calaveras Planning Director, Peter Maurer, “Current cannabis cultivation activities within Calaveras county have led to significant environmental impacts, including habitat degradation, loss and fragmentation; burying of streams, diversion of surface waters; and impacts to water quality including sediment, garbage, pesticides and petroleum products.”

The letter continues with a ‘preferred option’ as a course of action, which is to ban commercial cultivation and includes the registration of medical cannabis cultivation. This letter begins on page 2-13 of the, ‘Calaveras County Medical Cannabis Cultivation and Commerce Ordinance Project Final Environmental Impact Report”

The California Fish and Wildlife is currently attributing an increase in wildlife mortality (death) rates to marijuana cultivation. This is due to the pesticides and rodenticides being found in marijuana cultivation sites. Yes, it is true that many of these violations are in unpermitted cultivation sites, yet many are discovered in permitted sites as well. There are more than 60 ‘Carbamates’, ‘Organophosphates’, ‘Pyrethins’ and ‘Rodenticides’ currently being found in marijuana cultivation sites by a research group from UC Davis that is studying the mortality rates of certain wildlife in California. Our Calaveras emergency medical teams conducted a table top exercise last May to learn how to deal with Organophosphates.

This research group, Integral Ecology Research Center has conducted scientific studies on diseases affecting our wildlife in California. These studies are being led by Dr. Maroud Gabriel.

Please click on the link below for more information about the research being conducted, and the conclusions relating to commercial marijuana cultivation.

I would also encourage you to watch one of his presentations about one of his studies, which is lengthy, but very informative. It is titled, “Canary in the Cannabis Field”.

How the current Urgency Ordinance Has Miserably Failed the Residents of Calaveras County

At the beginning of this piece I mentioned how the pro-marijuana people are pushing for ‘regulation’, and that regulation will ‘remove’ the irresponsible growers, and it will provide funding for enforcement of the regulations. The current ‘Urgency Ordinance’ is failing the people of Calaveras County. I have yet to see a comprehensive regulation ordinance proposed that will address the environmental impacts that we are starting to see in Calaveras County. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it. Other jurisdictions in California have regulations, and the penalties for violating them range from fines to eradication, and in some cases, abatement of the property. However, this is not much of an incentive to follow the local regulation in an industry of what is considered primarily a lucrative, cash business that is relying on self-monitoring.

There were no provisions in the UO for controlling the application of these super-soils, fertilizers on steroids and the sheer volume of pesticides typically used in these grows sites. The loading our soils beyond natures ability to remain healthy is leading contaminating our soils to the point that remediation may take years and millions of dollars. Why? Because there is no penalty incentive to abide by the law?

I ask, how well do people in our society conduct themselves in abiding by existing laws that have criminal penalties? Like driving under the influence? Burglaries? Identity theft? Insurance fraud? Domestic violence? Child abuse? These crimes have penalties which not only impose fines, but take away that person’s freedom. And in many cases, are repeat offenders because they gamble getting caught committing new or other crimes. We cannot expect the marijuana community to self-regulate and abide by local regulation. It is simply not reasonable due to the extensive damage to our soil, wildlife and domestic livestock, and our water. Remember, we supply ourselves, the valley and the bay area with their drinking water. Can you imagine the liability this county would be exposed to if we allow our water to become contaminated? And then supply it to other communities? If this occurs, the damage is irreversible. Have you had your well water tested for contaminants recently? What about your water provided to livestock? Your ponds? Would you eat fish caught in a stream or river that is below a commercial marijuana cultivation site?

I know of family’s now that are having their wells tested, and are stopping their children from swimming in ponds on private property that are downstream or downhill from known marijuana cultivation sites because of this.

The problem is that there is no required monitoring or testing, and follow up testing for these sites either after harvest or eradication. I know people in the real estate business that are concerned about trying to sell a property where commercial marijuana cultivation took place, because they have to disclose that fact to any potential buyers. They must also disclose any environmental clean-up that took place. Would you purchase that property? Would you purchase neighboring property, downhill or downstream from a commercial marijuana cultivation site? When are you going to have your well water tested? What about testing your water source next year? What happens when these chemicals seep into the aquifers five, ten or twenty years from now?

The Pesticides and Rodenticides Danger

Some of the chemicals being used in marijuana cultivation are used to prevent pests, rodents, and other animals from damaging the marijuana crop. Pesticides and rodenticides that are either illegal in California or the United States are being found in Calaveras County.

One of the more serious Carbamates found in some marijuana cultivation sites is called Furadan. Furadan is a banned substance in the United States, Canada and parts of Europe. Furadan has been located in commercial marijuana grow sites on private property, in Burson, and in West Point, this year.

During the Sheriff’s presentation to the Calaveras BOS on May 30, 2017, he highlighted there is, “Destruction of forest land (even on private property)”, and “Potential for water contamination from various chemicals”.

The Sheriff recommended, “Establish Funding Source for Criminal, Environmental and Community Quality of Life Issues Impacted by Marijuana Cultivation and Businesses” and, “Establish a MJ Mitigation Impact Fee for Neighborhoods”. The Sheriff also recommended, “Develop hazardous material fee associated with post MJ operations- clean-up of fertilizer, fertigation tanks, and chemicals”, “That are being left behind.”

These concerns have already been recognized and expressed to the BOS. Who is supposed to monitor the water and soil the cultivation site? The state? The county employees? The property owner who is growing? Or the person leasing the property for the purpose of cultivating marijuana?

Recently, a picture was publicized which depicts a Calaveras deputy sheriff taking a sample of a green substance from a barrel wearing only nitrile gloves at a marijuana cultivation site. Why is personal protective equipment (PPE) not being provided to county employees?" This is one of the more serious complaints arising out of the employees conducting these investigations, inspections and eradications-they are NOT being provided PPE's. Not only is that deputy sheriff breathing this material, (because he is not wearing any type of respirator), but he is stepping into it and quite possibly other unknown chemicals, and then exposing these chemicals to his county vehicle, and other people.

If you watch the presentation by Dr. Gabriel, “Canaries in the Cannabis Field”, he states that his team does not enter a marijuana cultivation site without PPE. Why? Because they are entering a ‘hazardous materials’ site. They are scientists and understand the dangers.

To this day, I still get a ‘Chem Panel’ blood test conducted every year to two years. When I was a deputy sheriff in Calaveras County, I ‘eradicated’ a lot of marijuana cultivation sites, and a lot of methamphetamine labs. I established a baseline blood test with my doctor back in the mid – late 1990’s when I began working these assignments. What we were still learning then, we know now, it’s very dangerous to our health to be in and around chemicals, especially without proper protection. Chemicals cause serious health issues and sometimes death. It may take years for chemical exposure to take effect.


In closing, we have an opportunity to stop the environmental disaster of commercial marijuana cultivation is causing as well as the serious health concerns that residents and our county employees are forced to deal with. We cannot wait for the environmental damage to take a foot hold in our county, and continue to expose our county employees to unnecessary toxins and chemicals.

I urge every citizen who lives here, who has raised a family here and wants to continue to do so, in an environment that is not poisoning us, our soil, our water and our wildlife and livestock, to call the Planning Commissioners, and the Board of Supervisors, to urge them to ban the commercial cultivation of marijuana in Calaveras County. There is no amount of money that is worth the health of our employees, our citizens, our children, and those ‘downstream’ of our county that can allow this to continue.

Calaveras County Board of Supervisors:

Gary Tofanelli, District 1

Phone: (209) 286-9002

Jack Garamendi, District 2

Phone: (209) 286-9003

Mike Oliviera, District 3

Phone: (209) 286-9007
Dennis Mills, District 4

Phone: (209) 286-9050

Clyde Clapp, District 5

Phone: (209) 286-9059

Calaveras County Planning Commission:

F. Joseph Bechelli, Jr., District 1 Commissioner

Timothy Laddish, District 2 Commissioner

Lisa Muetterties, District 3 Commisioner

Kelly Wooster, District 4 Commissioner

Karen Sisk, District 5 Commissioner

Written by Gary Stevens
San Andreas, California

-- end of article as published September 25th, 2017, in The Pine Tree which is a Calaveras County source for news and current events.

The Pine Tree, or more appropriately cover news, promotes events, and local businesses in Calaveras, Tuolumne, Amador & Alpine Counties. started daily news coverage in 2006.

As I stated before, after talking with Mr. Stevens and reading his article, I'm even more convinced that we need a Calaveras County Sheriff who is not blinded by supposed solutions to commercial marijuana or exaggerated promises of wealth to our county coffers which took a huge hit during the last two years before the ban.

Please understand that I could care less about 6 plants of medical marijuana grown by residents of our county. That's not the issue and we shouldn't be getting that mixed up with commercial grows of hundreds and thousands of plants which has created a great deal of problems. These problems should never have come to Calaveras County. I blame our District Supervisors who should have gotten off their butts and talked to residents about it instead of acting out their own self-interest and against what the majority of folks here want. 

We need a Sheriff who understands the problems that accompany commercial marijuana in our county. I will only vote for a County Sheriff who is for the ban on commercial marijuana in Calaveras County. 

I hope you feel the same way. That's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa

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