An anchor employer vacancy in the beautiful California County of Calaveras was answered and filled, but the residents of the fertile county are rejecting it. Financial solutions are popping up throughout the country but many groups still refuse to participate because they believe cannabis is bad.
Hardcore drugs are not a financial solution to any legitimate group, it ruins and kills people, but whether marijuana should be lumped in with that group is where the line is being drawn. In your mind, do you put marijuana in the same category as heroine and cocaine? If people can get to a place where they accept that cannabis is not the life ruining substance other drugs are, then financial solutions are not far away.
In May, an organization representing cannabis farmers in Calaveras County, California—a rural enclave of 45,000 souls in the state’s historic gold country foothills—tried to buy the local police department an extra cop.
The farmers’ offer was not well received.
For the last three years, the public high school in Angels Camp, the county’s lone incorporated city, had been without a school resource officer. The school—Bret Harte Union High School, after the Gold Rush-era writer—once had a police officer on campus, but then the money had run out.
California’s boosters love to brag about “the world’s sixth-largest economy,” but such bounty is an abstraction in Calaveras, more than two hours’ drive east from San Francisco and about halfway between Lake Tahoe to the north and Yosemite National Park to the south. This year, county supervisors are grappling with a $3.6 million budget deficit, which has led to an understaffed jail. At the nadir of the Great Recession, unemployment soared to nearly 15% as nearly one in eight people lost their jobs. The jobless figure would have been higher were it not for the fact that half the people here are over 50 years old, and many are retirees, lured here in the 1990s by cheap land prices, golf courses, and senior-friendly housing developments.
The county has been without an anchor employer industry since a cement plant closed in the early 1980s. Aside from local government and a private hospital, the job market is almost entirely dependent on tourism. “It’s not that there are no decent employment opportunities here, it’s that they’re all taken,” said one longtime county resident and cannabis farmer. “You’re basically just waiting for someone to die.”
Like most other rural areas of the state, marijuana has been grown here for decades with varying degrees of subterfuge. At least one major brand, Bloom Farms, has been based here for several years. Its CEO, Mike Ray, is a Calaveras County local, born and bred.
Following the devastation caused by the 2015 Butte Fire, when land was available on the cheap, growers shut out of the state’s Emerald Triangle “pot basket” flocked here. Ray, who weathered years of record-breaking drought only to lose his childhood home and entire 99-plant crop in the blaze, rebuilt and kept his business in the county. He now employs 50 people, with 10 working directly on the farm.
According to the county planning department, there are now as many as 1,600 “commercial” cannabis farms in the county. By one estimate, a study conducted by academics from the University of the Pacific, in nearby Stockton, more than 2,600 people are now employed in the county’s cannabis trade.
Last summer, officials confronted the obvious: Weed was the only thing going in Calaveras, so weed should be the centerpiece of the county’s recovery after the fire. Beginning last May, officials started handing out permits for some of the largest legal cannabis plantings in California: up to half an acre. (For context’s sake, a thousand plants—more than enough for a skilled grower, with help, to grow a literal ton in a season—can easily fit on one acre.)