Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

Several speakers came out to comment Tuesday at Board of Supervisors’ meeting, voicing their support or opposition to District 1 Supervisor Roger Gitlin’s suggestion to disband the board’s Cannabis Working Group.

Gitlin went on record last month to ask for the elimination of the group, and asked Chair Chris Howard to place the matter on the agenda for consideration.

The board formed the group about a year ago to research issues and draft ordinances to be reviewed by county legal counsel and submitted to the board for consideration and further action.

Gitlin himself spoke from the podium under public comment, directing his comments to Howard, saying he asked for the matter to be agendized well before the mandated deadline, and after consultation with him. Howard answered Gitlin’s email in writing.

“Your argument was inappropriate, if not premature,” Gitlin said. “I simply asked you, yes or no, to place this item on the agenda for discussion and action.” Gitlin went on to say the response denies democracy.

“I reluctantly voted to form this group, even though none of the other 57 counties in California had such a group,” he said, “and after listening to Blake Alexandre and his wife and two adult children stand at this very dais in addressing our board many months ago, to give Del Norte County the opportunity to be marijuana-free, I was convinced my opposition to recreational marijuana was not alone.”

Gitlin said he was disappointed to hear Alexandre say he was outnumbered 18 to one on the group.

“The deck is stacked with growers, distributors and pot lovers, who, as a group, advise our county counsel, Joel Campbell-Blair, on various ordinances and await board approval,” Gitlin said, reminding that marijuana is still federally illegal. Gitlin demanded Howard place the item on a future agenda for a vote.

Working group vice-chair and oft-spokesman Jesse Davis said he supports having a discussion about the working group on the agenda, calling it premature to discuss disbandment before having a discussion about it.

“I think you can agendize a discussion without forcing a vote,” he said.

Davis said the difference between listening and understanding is that the latter takes more time and effort.

“Some trust is required for us to feel like it is worth the effort to understand,” he said. Honesty builds that trust. Let’s work together to understand each other.”

Davis called it reasonable to support medical cannabis while opposing its recreational use.

“I support a medical only ordinance for cannabis,” he said. “I lobbied for it from the beginning, before the working group was even formed. I did not vote for Prop 64, I don’t like it.” He said he wanted to see the county participate in medicinal regulation, as defined by the Medicinal Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act of 2015.

“Blake Alexandre did not throw in the towel,” Davis said. “You, Supervisor Gitlin, threw in the towel by refusing to participate at all. Blake stuck with it, bringing his perspective and remaining consistent to his core values, working hard to genuinely understand others. I’m glad to see Supervisor Gitlin picking up that towel and working to integrate his values into good public policy… I look forward to that in the future.”

Davis recalled controversies surrounding the June primary election, which he said eroded trust between Supervisors Gitlin and Bob Berkowitz.

“I hope that we can move forward with an intention to understand each other, nurtured by trust and solidified by hard work,” he said.

Working Group member Robert Derego said he was “dismayed” at Gitlin’s actions, adding that voters in District 1 voted for cannabis.

Derego said the first commercial ordinance crafted by the group has a section that allows growth in manufacturing of edible cannabis products.

“That’s something we need,” he said. “We need options for jobs and the cannabis working group is working slowly, it’s getting muted, middle-of-the-road recommendations, and that’s community government. That’s how it’s going to happen, I guess. To me, it’s not fast enough to impact our economy.”

Addressing Gitlin directly, Derego said “there’s a difference between having character and being a character, and you’ve got to learn the difference.”

Derego’s comments became broken and hard to follow as he expressed his frustration.

“Represent District 1, not just those who live up by the lighthouse,” he said.

A woman who did not give her name for the record, suggested the board follow Gitlin’s direction and felt the working group had a one way attitude toward legalizing commercial cannabis. She said Prop 64 also gives counties the option to ban commercial cannabis, as well as a six-plant personal cultivation mandate.

Victoria Graves said her family moved to the area a couple years ago and that her husband and son, both armed forces veterans, use cannabis to deal with pain and stress.

“Does that make them bad people, to you?” she asked. “They don’t drink. They smoke cannabis to deal with serving our country and the fact that they are looked at as ‘less than’ is absurd.”

She said her family goes to Brookings for cannabis and suggested tourists are doing the same. She disagreed that cannabis is addictive.

Graves addressed an agendized proclamation to make October Bully Prevention Month, saying “I notice that you, Roger Gitlin, bully Safeway constantly online. My husband and son work for Safeway. They got hired right away because of their veteran status. It’s disgusting to me, that you single out Safeway constantly.”

Resident Chuck Orton said he did not favor Gitlin’s comments about Alexandre.

Kate Fischer of Smith River said it would be a mistake to disband the working group. She said she has been a delegate to the working group, which has been “an exercise in applying democracy to a local problem.”

“The people who are anti-cannabis have come to the meetings and their views have been heard and considered,” she said. “I think what the working group is doing is solving a problem that Humboldt (County) utterly failed to do, which is not just cater to the growers and money but to incorporate the views of all the citizens.” She said in her experience at working group meetings, no suggestions have been completely taken off the table.

Trees of Mystery owner John Thompson was unable to complete his comments in the allotted time, but told stories of people he knew whose lives were ruined after they got involved in marijuana and its culture and crime. Saying it was easy to find a buyer of alcohol when he was underage in the 1960’s, Thompson suggested it will be just as easy for kids to find marijuana buyers if commercial cannabis is legalized.

Chris Zerling, a former HIV research nurse, said many of his patients were on many prescribed pain and nausea medications. A second hip replacement found him also on many hard pain drugs including morphine and oxycontin, but in the end, cannabis relieved his symptoms without side effects.

“The state voted to allow people to smoke marijuana,” he said. “I think we can get it together with this group and not disband it.”

Working group member Bobby Westbrook asked residents and others to come to the meetings.

Redwood Coast Collective owner Patsy McCauley also said she has replaced opiate medications with cannabis. She said her business has no problems with law enforcement personnel “because we don’t break any laws” and the majority of clients are over 65.

She suggested the board keep the working group intact, and suggested that those who wish to disband it should attend its meetings and get involved.

Ellie Hoops, a tribal attorney for the office of the Yurok Tribe, said the tribe is asking for a ban on cannabis in the county. Saying the tribe has a zero tolerance policy for cannabis on the reservation, Hoops said the tribe has suffered environmental damage and drug crises.

“At this point we ask that you keep the (group) in place, that you allow it to be a public forum where we can have this kind of dialog, and we can have these conversations and make sure that everybody has a voice,” she said, addressing Gitlin, “but be assured, there are people that speak on the side of you, that you are talking to.”

Following the meeting, Howard said the matter was not placed on the agenda because Gitlin failed to follow the correct procedure in making the request. He said needed to follow a procedure similar to Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen’s request for the Proposition 6 discussion of the same meeting. He said the board would need to waive the rules in order to have the discussion and then would need a four out of five vote to repeal its 2017 vote to form the working group.

To clarify:

A now twice-stated comment by Gitlin was that Del Norte is the only county that has used a working group to create cannabis ordinances.

Humboldt Clerk of the Board Kathy Hayes said it has had a cannabis working group for some time, and through that, Humboldt County has several cannabis ordinances in place and is currently working on more.

Trinity County uses an ad hoc advisory group, made up of supervisors and staff, and also some ordinances in place, according to Board Clerk Tina Duong. Shasta County currently has a ban in place on sales of recreational and medicinal cannabis. Sonoma County has a similar, 20 member ad hoc advisory group, made up of community members, according to the county’s website.

Officials in Mendocino and Siskiyou County did not return calls as of press time.