Tomorrow’s troubles

Recreational pot is just one issue Butte County Supervisors must address

District 4 Supervisor Steve Lambert was dressed for the holidays on Tuesday, (Dec. 6).

District 4 Supervisor Steve Lambert was dressed for the holidays on Tuesday, (Dec. 6).

Photo by Ken Smith

The Butte County Board of Supervisors will grapple for years to come with the fallout from the local, state and national results of last month’s general election.

That was the main message that Paul Hahn, the county’s chief administrative officer, delivered to the board on Tuesday (Dec. 6) as the panel met for the first time since Election Day (Nov. 8). Hahn was scheduled to give an update on how the passage of Proposition 64—which legalized marijuana for adult recreational use in California—will affect the county, and took the opportunity to give a brief, broader rundown of how other election results may play out regarding issues ranging from health care to Oroville’s money troubles.

Hahn began by talking about the Affordable Care Act’s shaky future in light of President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, noting Trump’s repeated campaign promises to repeal the law and his recent appointment of Tom Price—an outspoken critic of the ACA—as secretary of Health and Human Services.

“Whether you like the Affordable Care Act or hate it, the reality is that it will have a significant impact if it’s repealed, in the fact that we’ve spent the last six years implementing it,” Hahn said. “[Counties] are a huge part of the ACA as an implementing agent for the state and federal governments, as well as an employer.”

Hahn said an ACA repeal likely would hit the county’s Behavioral Health and Social Services departments the hardest. He also said it’s impossible to tell what those effects may be at this point.

“It depends on what the repeal means, what stays and what doesn’t, and then we’ll have to figure out how it affects us,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions and a lot of unknowns because there haven’t been a lot of details.”

At the state level, Hahn said that Democrats securing a two-thirds super-majority in both houses of the state Legislature could lead to new taxes and other laws with profound local effects. He also mentioned the state’s bleak economic expectations.

“[Gov. Brown] says we’re already seeing a $1.3 billion shortfall in expected revenues,” he said. “It’s not something that will send us into recession—it’s manageable from the state’s standpoint—but the governor has made it clear that the budget he comes out with in January is going to be very tight.”

Hahn mentioned the defeat of Measure R—a proposed 1 percent sales tax increase in the city of Oroville that would have been used primarily to fund public safety—could also present some challenges at the county level. He also noted the Oroville City Council election resulted in a large turnover, as three newcomers defeated incumbent candidates. Hahn said he’s meeting with Oroville officials this week to discuss that city’s financial issues.

Uncertainty remained the theme of the day as Hahn returned to the main topic of his update, Prop. 64, and the potential impacts of recreational marijuana in a county that has struggled for years to regulate medical marijuana. He spelled out three main issues the county needs to address in light of the new law—cultivation of medical versus recreational marijuana; whether the county will allow dispensaries; and taxation.

Prop. 64 allows each adult to grow up to six plants for personal use, while Measure A—the county’s medi-pot ordinance—allows for different-sized cultivation plots based on property size (capping at 150 square feet for 10 acres or more). Hahn said the county still has some ability to regulate these grows from a safety standpoint.

Hahn prefaced his commentary on dispensaries by noting the board has thus far opposed them: “I am assuming at this point in time that based on the results of Measure L and all the conversations we’ve had in these chambers over the last several years, that for right now we do not allow distribution for recreational or commercial use, and that’s where the board wants to be.”

Supervisor Maureen Kirk mentioned the possibility of issuing use permits to a very small number of dispensaries, which took Hahn to the issue of taxation. Though it became legal to possess, use and grow marijuana the day after Prop. 64 passed, state taxes and other regulations won’t take effect until January 2018.

County Counsel Bruce Alpert noted that all local taxes must be voted on by the public, and that the next local election isn’t scheduled until June 2018; putting anything on a ballot before then would require a special election.

The purpose of Hahn’s address was informational, with the supervisors not taking any action. He said county staff is preparing a more thorough presentation for January.

“As we’ve said many times in these chambers, this issue is not going away,” Alpert said. “We’re going to be dealing with the implementation of 64 for quite a while, and my suspicion is there will be court cases. There’s a lot of questions that the proposition itself wasn’t clear on.”