Last month, the Butte County Central Committee of the Democratic Party voted to endorse a "No" vote on Measure A (which restricts the size of marijuana gardens to a very small scale) and a "Yes" vote on Measure B (which creates a commercial industry for cannabis). I was told by a person who attended the vote that it was the urban Chico contingent that pushed the party to make the endorsement. Rural Democrats on the Central Committee were against this endorsement.It is the politically correct position these days to be “Pro” anything having to do with Cannabis. We rightly see legalization and decriminalization as a way to end the war on drugs that has led to so many people getting rap sheets, and not treatment, when it comes to the abuse of drugs. Yes, I agree. The war on drugs must end.
But as a person who has been both a life-long Lefty and an Environmentalist who lives in rural Butte County, I do not see how endorsing Measure B protects rural Butte County from the ravages of greed. Let me explain.
In the past few years a new industry has sprung up in one of the most environmentally sensitive eco-systems we have left in California. The late environmental writer, Philip Fradkin, estimated that 75% of the wildlife in California lives within the environmental sweet spot between 1,000 and 4,000 feet in elevation. The great valleys of California have mostly been taken over by agriculture. Wildlife has been extirpated to what little habitat they have left.
The Foothills is what they have left. We should be very careful about letting any large scale commercial enterprise develop in that zone. Up until the cannabis boom, settlement in the rural Foothills was limited for a number of reasons: zoning, commute distances and the difficulty of the terrain. What little settlement there was in the far rural areas was limited to recreational cabins and a few “Mountain People”.That has changed. Suddenly, just like the Gold Rush, the Green Rush made it economically viable to live in the Foothills. The fuzzy legal status of the Cannabis Industry has pushed it into the nether, unpopulated regions. Out of the way and mostly out of sight of Chicoans. In Butte County, the number of grows burst overnight to around 5,000 gardens. More are created every year. And these aren’t the Cartel Grows--- these are the Grows that are encouraged by a much too generous Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance such as Measure B.
So what has the impact been? Untrammeled growth in a sensitive environment. New roads going in. Water being diverted from streams. Wildlife are shot on sight by paranoid gardeners who want to protect their million dollar grows. Pit bulls and wolves are being reintroduced to the area, killing critters and menacing any recreational hiker. It has become a dangerous place to live, not because of the mountain lion or rattlesnake, but because of the need to protect grows (that can be worth up to a million dollars) with guns and aggressive canine.
From talking to the Fish and Wildlife employees in the area, the number of deer are plummeting, just like they have been plummeting in the marijuana rich counties of Mendocino, Lake and Humboldt. Population pressure and poaching are taking their toll.We are mismanaging the Foothills and injecting a large commercial industry into an environmentally sensitive zone that should be left to the raccoon, squirrels, ring tailed cats, bear, deer, mountain lion, badger, marten, fisher, rattlesnake, wild turkey, quail, trout, salmon.
A vote for Measure B ensures that we will have less wildlife. Less wild space. More pit bulls and guns and mismanagement of rural areas. I know. I live there. I’ve witnessed the growth and the loss of habitat.
And so, dear Chico liberals and Environmentalists, please vote to limit the size of gardens. Vote Yes on Measure A. There are limits to growth. Let’s vote to limit our impact by maxing out the size of the gardens. We don’t need another commercial industry in the Foothills.