After expressing his disappointment in its chair, Del Norte County Supervisor Roger Gitlin is calling for the disbanding of the Cannabis Working Group.
In an email to Supervisors Chair Chris Howard on Friday, Gitlin stated the Cannabis Working Group doesn’t represent a “balanced cross-section of community sentiment” and is “highly biased.” Gitlin said he doesn’t see the Cannabis Working Group doing anything other than recommending ordinances, which are drafted by Assistant County Counsel Joel Campbell-Blair before going before the Board of Supervisors.
Gitlin asked Howard to place the proposed disbanding of the Cannabis Working Group on the Board’s agenda for Sept. 11.
“I don’t think we need this middleman,” Gitlin told the Triplicate on Friday. “No other county has a cannabis working group, just Del Norte County.”
Although he stated that Gitlin may approach the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 11 to ask for a majority vote to reconsider its decision to create the Cannabis Working Group, Howard said he was disappointed in Gitlin’s request that the group be disbanded.
“What has bothered me the most is your willingness to go against your own constituents that overwhelmingly voted in favor of this proposition, including the county (as a) whole, because of your stated principles and presumed federal constitutional conflicts,” Howard wrote Friday in reply to Gitlin’s email. “To this date, even with clarity as given by county counsel on the latter issue of constitutionality, I do not understand your reasoning or logic for not upholding the voters’ decision.”
The Board of Supervisors’ decision to create the Cannabis Working Group was unanimous. The group is tasked with researching issues and drafting ordinances for legal cannabis in the county that will be reviewed by county counsel and submitted to the board.
At the Aug. 28 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, working group member Robert Derego told supervisors the group has been discussing potential locations for commercial cannabis as well as potential impacts to local roads. The group hopes to keep commercial cannabis and cultivation as small and simple as possible to meet timelines for ordinances, Derego told supervisors.
According to Derego, community members had asked cultivation not be considered appropriate in residential areas, a concept, he said, the working group agrees with.
Meanwhile Cannabis Working Group chairman Blake Alexandre told supervisors that although he was the sole opponent to legal commercial cannabis, the group has been able to come to a consensus. He told supervisors the group’s recommendations to start small when it comes to cannabis came about through his influence, the Triplicate reported on Aug. 30.
Although he said he commended Alexandre for “being stalwart,” Gitlin said he was disappointed Alexandre modified his view because he’s “surrounded by people who don’t agree with me.”
“That’s not who our community is,” Gitlin said. “We are a very diverse community of lots of different people and the cannabis working group should represent those people.”
Gitlin said he gets phone calls from Del Norte residents complaining about cannabis. The topic has also come up at town hall meetings he’s hosted. Gitlin also noted that the use of cannabis is against federal law.
Gitlin said the Cannabis Working Group has become a lobbying group “with all of its members basically drinking from the same trough.” He said the working group represents a point of view with the goal of mainstreaming recreational cannabis in Del Norte County.
“They’re breathing each other’s DNA in terms of yes we agree this is what we want,” Gitlin said. “When you have a person like Blake Alexandre who obviously feels differently, he’s intimidated, he’s bullied (and) he’s succumbed to ‘I guess I have to modify my point of view because I’m in the minority.’”
Responding to Gitlin’s statement that there are 19 members on the Cannabis Working Group, Howard said the group consists of seven members, including Blake Alexandre, Bobby Westbrook, Jesse Davis, Kurt Miller, Robert Derego and Eric Gunther. The staff that attends group meetings, including Del Norte County Sheriff Erik Apperson, are not voting members of the working group, Howard said. Their jobs are to guide the process as it relates to legal, health or planning decisions affecting their departments, Howard said.
“I will not name names, however there are others on that group that agree with Blake Alexandre’s position,” Howard said. “You have just made the assumption that he is the only one. Given my count, the group is very balanced (four pro - three against) to a vote that reflects the county’s decision on Prop 64.”
Howard also told Gitlin that the process of drafting an ordinance as it relates to commercial cannabis is long and goes through several other bodies before it reaches the Board of Supervisors, including the environmental review committee, the planning commission and the county counsel’s office.
“To say this ‘process is highly flawed and NOT reflective of community consensus’ is just continuing to bury your head in the sand, ignoring the will of the voters and not looking out for the best interests of the county in regulating a product, which will exist whether we have legalized it in the county or not,” Howard said. “You have yet to bring a solution to the table which will address this issue in a way which reflects the overwhelming decision of the voters of Del Norte County.”
On Monday, Alexandre told the Triplicate that he still opposes commercial cannabis, but the working group has considered both sides of the issue and are functioning fairly well. He said the group is doing its best to represent both sides of the issue, this includes a Yurok Tribal representative to the committee who represents a similar point of view to Alexandre’s.
“Generally I think that the local marijuana growers have also conceded to meet somewhere in the middle on most issues,” Alexandre said. “That’s not changed.”
Alexandre noted that it’s the Board of Supervisors that will make the ultimate decision with regards to commercial cannabis. He noted that members of the public often attend working group meetings, sometimes weighing in on a topic as the group moves down the agenda.
“There’s the regulars that are always there and occasionally we get new folks,” Alexandre said. “We had a whole group from the Church Tree Street (community) that came a couple weeks in a row and voiced their opposition to marijuana, so that was very helpful in my view.”
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .