Napa County Farm Bureau lights up campaign against cannabis ballot measure

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Napa County Farm Bureau announced late Friday afternoon that it is formally launching a campaign to defeat a commercial cannabis cultivation initiative that the Board of Supervisors earlier this week voted to put on the March 2020 ballot.

The 17-member board of the farm bureau voted unanimously Wednesday to take the steps needed to start a professional opposition effort, including opening a political committee with the state then raising funds, CEO Ryan Klobas told the Business Journal. That would be separate from the political action committee the organization formed earlier this year, which by state law can only support candidates.

Next week, the farm bureau plans to reach out to local industry and community groups about forming a coalition to fight the ballot initiative.

"My experience has been, being out in the community talking about the issue, the bulk of the people are opposed to this initiative. And when you educate people about the initiative, then they understand that it is bad. We're not talking about access; we're talking about cultivation in Napa County."

Representatives of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association, which has been backing the new initiative, in comments before the Board of Supervisors have pointed to a big margin of support in the county in 2016 for Proposition 64, which legalized recreational pot use in the state as of January 2018.

Klobas said the importance of voter education was a key takeaway from the razor-thin vote against Measure C in June 2018. That initiative called for greater protections for native woodlands from development and creation of buffer zones for watersheds, and the slim vote margin led to Board of Supervisors adoption earlier this year of an ordinance that incorporated a number of that initiative's goals.

In addition to the cultivation-versus-access point on the cannabis initiative, Klobas sees a primary issue to get across to voters is what the trade group said would happen with right-to-farm law.

"Right now, cannabis is not considered agriculture," he said. "If the initiative were to pass, it would be. So a cannabis operator would then be able to enforce the Right to Farm Act against an ag operator. That would set a bad precedent in Napa County."

Backed by local pot industry boosters, Measure J, called the Napa County Cannabis Regulation Initiative, was unanimously put on the March ballot at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. The vote came a month after the measure was certified to have enough signatures and upon completion of a report allowed under state law to outline potential impacts.

The initiative calls for allowing cannabis cultivation, called "grows," on up to 1-acre of land on parcels larger than 10 acres within the Agricultural Preserve (AP) and Agricultural Watershed (AW) zoning districts. The farm bureau noted that those paramaters encompasses most of the unincorporated land in the county.

Indoor and outdoor grows would be authorized without public review under the initiative.

"As the political leader for agriculture, the Napa County Farm Bureau will vigorously work to protect agriculture from bad policy," said Johnnie White, farm bureau president, in the Friday announcement. "This is an initiative that will negatively impact our membership, and the crops they grow."

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