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Pro-ordinance group urges voters to reject qualifying referendum

September 2, 2021 — The referendum to repeal the newly enacted cannabis ordinance, Chapter 22.18, has collected enoughsignatures to either be repealed by the Board of Supervisors, or placed on a ballot for voters to decide if it should be repealed or not. Assessor Clerk Recorder Katrina Bartolomie reported to the board this week that she had verified 4,198 of the 6,239 signatures that were turned in. A total of 3,397 signatures were required for the referendum to move forward.

The referendum was opposed by a pro-ordinance group called Citizens for Sustainable Agriculture, which sought to counter points made by people gathering signatures for the referendum. According to campaign documents, the pro-ordinance group received a total of $24,500 in May and June, plus $5,716 in non-monetary contributions. Heritage Holding of California, which does business locally under the name Henry’s Original, contributed a subscription to SquareSpace for a website worth $216 and made a monetary contribution of $5,000. The Cannabis Business Association of Mendocino County contributed $5,500 worth of staff time for a policy consultant, according to Joshua Keats. 

Keats is a co-founder of Henry’s Original. He and Henry’s CEO Jamie Warm are two of the five members of the Cannabis Business Association’s Board of Directors. Keats also served as the CSA campaign treasurer. 

In an interview from the road, Keats said, “It’s no secret that cannabis is the backbone of Mendocino County’s economy,” and that Prop 64 is forcing a reorganization of how cannabis businesses operate in California. He suggested that anti-capitalist, anti-cannabis elements are taking out their aggression against Prop 64 on the localordinance.   

He said the referendum won’t do anything to  change the national or international cannabis markets, and referred to the collapsing local market, with growers still trying to sell last year’s product at two or three hundred dollars a pound. “You can’t do that on the backside of Spyrock, importing soil,” he pointed out, saying that 22.18 is supposed to bring cultivation and the jobs provided by an industry that’s not highly mechanized, onto appropriate agricultural zones. He said he plans to continue promoting Mendocino County cannabis, and that he’s hoping for a policy that allows local farmers to succeed.

The largest single donor to the CItizens for Sustainable Agriculture was Syracuse Coyote Goldenghost, of Maverick Farm Solutions in Willits, who contributed $10,000. Goldenghost is being investigated for large illegal grows in Covelo and Willits that were subject to enforcement actions by multiple local, state and federal agencies this summer. On August 9, agents from local law enforcement and US Border Protection served a search warrant on a property at the 500 block of Cropley Lane. They interviewed non-English-speaking Hmong workers, confiscated over $200,000, and destroyed over 9,000 pounds of cannabis. 

Sheriff Matt Kendall provided kzyx with the parcel number, and the county assessor’s office confirmed that it is owned by a company called Fiore della Vita. Goldenghost is listed as one of the officers of that company, according to Open and Bizapedia. Kendall confirmed that the Hmong workers told an interpreter that they were not on the site against their will. He said they were living in tents and that his office is in touch with CalOSHA about non-standard labor conditions. 

Goldenghost is also the owner of two properties on Biggar Lane in Covelo, where Kendall reported that  agents served warrants and discovered more than a hundred unpermitted hoop houses on July 29. “We located almost four tons of processed marijuana and eradicated from that site, 14,495 cultivated marijuana plants, and then we seized 7,590 pounds of processed marijuana bud,” Kendall told kzyx, a few days after the action.

Goldenghost is not a suspect in a trespass grow on neighboring tribal property. He did respond courteously to an email sent earlier this week, requesting comment, but said he is very busy and often does not have cell phone or internet service. Kendall said the investigation is nowhere near ready for the District Attorney’s office, and it is not known at this point who was in charge of the grows, or if the properties were being leased to another party. Suspects are innocent until proven guilty.

Keith Shuster of Healing Herb Farms in Willits contributed $5,000 to the CItizens for Sustainable Agriculture. Healing Herb Farms is a member of the Cannabis Business Association of Mendocino County, as is a company called OutCo, which has a local cultivation and nursery site with a license under the name East Hill Wellness, according to OutCo CEO Lincoln Fish, who contributed $2,500. OutCo also has a couple of dispensaries in San Diego and a multi-use facility in El Cajon. 

Fish wrote in a brief email exchange that he was expecting to close on a deal for OutCo to be acquired by Canadian company Nutritional High this week. He wrote  that, “OutCo will likely consider shutting down its Mendocino operation if the referendum succeeds...the only reason we invested in Mendocino was we believed the county was planning to keep up with the rest of California in expanding their cannabis capabilities. This repeal would be shooting the county in the foot. It will mean dramatically less revenue and many fewer jobs.” He called the referendum “a case of protectionism,” and  predicted that it would “cost the county tens of millions as larger, responsible operations will move on to more progressive counties.”

Thomas Wegesser of Mendo Gold and Heath Dolan, the owner of Dark Horse Vineyards, each contributed a thousand dollars to the CItizens for Sustainable Agriculture. Wegesser is a Calpella farmer and retailer who was issued permits for six hoop houses and seven greenhouses last year, according to county documents. Dark Horse Vineyards is a biodynamic vineyard on Old River Road. Dolan also served on the campaign steering committee.

Joe Rogoway, of Rogoway Law Group in Sonoma County, did what he called “upstream work” on the Mendocino County ordinance, but said he was not involved in the anti-referendum effort. Without 22.18, he, too, believes the entire legal local cannabis industry will fail. He tried to allay concerns about enforcement, saying state agencies are hiring more personnel to crack down on violations.Land use penalties for illegal cultivation, which are getting more common, can be three times the permitting costs, and illegal operators are subject to prosecution for tax evasion. 

He hopes the Board of Supervisors will put the referendum on the ballot rather than repealing the ordinance, and that voters will reject the referendum.

The item is coming before the board on September 14th.

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