By Ken Bastida

MOUNTAIN RANCH (KPIX 5) — As California edges closer to legalizing recreational marijuana, growers are rushing to grab a little piece of the action, and it’s creating a land grab not seen in more than 100 years.

The Calaveras County town of Mountain Ranch boomed during California’s gold rush.  Now, 166 years later it’s booming again.

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“We call it the green rush. We don’t call it the gold rush, this is the green rush,” Bill Schmeitt of Mountain Ranch Realty told KPIX 5.

Green as in marijuana – the new gold.   Schmeitt has 18 escrows sitting on his desk at his Mountain Ranch office.

“We’ve sold 75 or so properties to growers, and we pretty much know what you’re looking for,” Schmeitt said.

Schmeitt says it’s going so well that he’s planning to pack up and move to Mexico.

Just six months ago, the town of 1,600 was nearly wiped out by the 70,000 acre Butte Fire – land that is being resettled now by growers who want to get in ahead of California’s November ballot initiative that could set a path for legalized recreational marijuana.

Growers like ‘Captain,’ a former English teacher who acquired a 20 acre parcel last year, and likes to compare his crop to fine wine.

“Every varietal is just a little bit different, like a red or a white wine. Uh, and they gotta be cured, and they gotta be taken care of like wine. You don’t want ‘em smashed. You don’t want ‘em stepped on,” ‘Captain’ said.

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He didn’t want us to show his face or use his real name, but ‘Captain’ insists his operation is in full compliance with state law.

“We’re not doing anything outside of what they regulate so far – what they allow, so we’re within the guidelines of California,” ‘Captain’ said.

His cultivation operation is the epitome of organization and high tech, cloning his own varieties then growing and harvesting hundreds of pounds of marijuana in large, custom built hoop houses and drying barns.

“The rest of the country seems to be loving it, and California is wanting more all the time. We’re just going to keep working hard as we can,” ‘Captain’ said.

‘Captain’ says he and other legitimate, growers pay their taxes, and are providing much needed employment for hundreds of people still reeling from last fall’s fire, and a lagging economy.

According to the county, if you add up the cattle industry, the wine grape growing industry, and the timber harvest, you’re talking about $27-28 million. Marijuana in Calaveras County right now is worth about $100 million.

“I love wine. We’re not restricted as in prohibition to drink wine anymore. We can make our own alcohol if we want. And so it should be the same for everyone in this product,” ‘Captain’ said.

The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors is set to meet next week, and it could recommend a ban or moratorium on any new pot growing in the county, or continue with a hands-off policy.

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