Possibly the most divisive issue in Calaveras County culminated Tuesday with a close vote allowing the marijuana industry to operate there legally, rather than the outright ban that some in the community had lobbied for.

The new rules, however, are likely to be much stricter than the current guidelines that allowed hundreds of growers to apply for permits and overwhelmed county employees in an “avalanche” of paperwork.

Supervisor Jack Garamendi made a financial argument for some level of marijuana regulation in a county that has suffered economically since the decline of the timber industry.

[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]If marijuana businesses are banned, he said, “What industry do we expect to fill the gap? And how long will it take us to develop that?

“What I do know is this: Today our economy is strong,” Garamendi said. “Like cannabis or not, the people I represent are working. A ban will make our community less prosperous, less environmentally clean and less safe.”

Tuesday’s 3-2 vote came the same day that San Joaquin County supervisors took their own small step toward regulation.

Equally split over the issue, San Joaquin supervisors voted 3-2 for county staff to develop a proposed tax on marijuana businesses that could raise millions of dollars to help pay for the costs of enforcing the rules and educating youth about the dangers of drug use.

Placing a general sales tax on the ballot for voters would have required four of the five supervisors to agree. Lacking four votes, the board instead voted to pursue a special tax that would require support from only three supervisors, but, on the flip side, would require two-thirds approval by the public. Supervisor Kathy Miller also asked that the county poll residents to see what exactly they think the tax money should be used for before any final action is taken.

The San Joaquin board has been split on cannabis since first deciding in August to regulate it. County staff have said that with the state legalizing the crop and counties such as Calaveras choosing to regulate marijuana, that more money will be needed for enforcement whether or not cannabis businesses are banned here.

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“Do we continue a ban and hope that everything going on around us does not impact us, or do we move forward with a strong enforceable ordinance that regulates this industry, and do we impose a tax to provide resources for us to do that?” Miller said. “I still believe that option No. 2 is better for the residents in San Joaquin County.”

Supervisor Bob Elliott, who dissented, said the county would be better off waiting until it’s clear how other counties deal with it.

“We’ll know better in a couple of years,” he said. “Why don’t we just watch? We don’t have to hurry into this thing.”

San Joaquin County’s rules are likely to be much stricter than in the Mother Lode. No outdoor grows would be allowed in San Joaquin, and the businesses would be clustered in an industrial area.

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While Calaveras officials rejected an outright ban on Tuesday, that’s based on some strict rules of their own, including capping marijuana business permits at 50 (a total of 700 growers applied for permits under the current system). The rules, proposed by Supervisor Gary Tofanelli, also require that marijuana farms be set back 500 feet from property lines and be prohibited altogether in residential areas.

Marijuana advocate Tom Liberty called the decision not to ban commercial marijuana in Calaveras “good news,” though he noted the restrictions will force smaller growers out of business and severely reduce the amount of tax revenue for the county, which has totaled $7 million so far.

“The growers, we’ve always been willing to compromise,” Liberty said. “The people who want to ban, there is no compromise.”

David Tunno, one of the leading supporters of a ban, declared victory Tuesday because the new rules would be so strict. He noted that some growers were applauding when the votes were cast.

“I don’t know why they were applauding,” Tunno said. “They’re out of business.”

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