By Gregg Fishman.
There are some issues that transcend local government boundaries. Air pollution, traffic congestion, crime — these issues ignore lines on a map. The same is true for medical marijuana, which is legal in California. However, growing, selling and using it, even for medicinal purposes, can cause all kinds of problems that do not stay within local jurisdictional boundaries.
Those issues are likely to expand if the recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in California—something many people expect to happen, possibly this year. That’s why six California Counties — Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte, Lake, Trinity and Sonoma (all “grow counties” where marijuana is already a cash crop) banded together to try to influence the California Legislature as it considered new state policies related to marijuana.
Leaders in those six counties recognized that marijuana impacts their communities in several different ways. And although the elected Supervisors in those counties may have very different positions about marijuana, they all came together around the idea that if they did not speak with one voice, they might not be heard at all over the din of other stakeholders.
A little over a year ago, the six counties held their first summit meeting where they hammered out a marijuana policy statement. When they had it finalized, they worked together to make sure it got to their local State Senator and Assembly member, as well as the other key legislative players. It might have helped just a little bit that State Senator Mike McGuire, representing most of the North Coast, is a former Sonoma County Supervisor.
The results from this initial partnership are impressive. Virtually all of the main points from the six-county policy statement made it into state legislation that was being considered at the time. These new laws are now taking effect and the six counties were able to maintain most of the local control that is so important to California Counties. Working together, the six-county collaboration has had an impact far greater than the sum of its parts.
Now, I could go on and on about the specifics of the policy the six counties hammered out, but just as the impact of legal marijuana transcends county boundaries, the impact of the six-county collaboration is transcending this particular issue. These politically diverse counties were able to work together on a policy that benefits them all. And keep in mind that when we talk about “counties” we are really talking about people — elected supervisors and senior staff that all bring considerable talent to the table — along with strongly held political beliefs of every stripe.
They were able to come together for the common good, to communicate, collaborate and cooperate with each other on a complex and sometimes contentious issue. Especially now, when much of the national political discourse has become mired in personal attacks and locker room put-downs, the six-county collaboration is proof that government can do important work in an efficient, effective and collegial manner.